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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Communication: Lost in Translation

There is nothing more frustrating during a busy work day as when I receive a cryptic email with a vague request and an immediate deadline. This often leads to numerous back-and-forth emails trying to clarify the message. The result is wasted time due to ineffective communication.

As a leader, you’re in a position to provide frequent communication – whether it be by email, conversations, speeches, press interviews or even through social media. Are you doing all you can to ensure your communications are clear and easily understood? Are you coaching others around you to do the same?

Maybe I’m more of a stickler than most due to my background as an English teacher in the early part of my career. I offer my guidance to help you to shape more effective communications:

-- Provide context: don’t expect anyone to be able to read your mind.
-- Make sure that all communications answer this question for the target recipient: “Why should I care?”
-- Define expectations by focusing on what is important for the audience to know and do as a result of your communication.

We know our message is important and we expect that everyone will take the time to read it. But that’s not true. Take a page from the Forbes article on Great Speeches: "People don't remember much of what they hear, so focus and keep it simple." Skip the BS. Pretentious, extraneous information might make you think you’re adding value, but it obscures the message.

If you want employees to connect with the business mission, vision and strategy, speak directly and plainly. Consider various types of communication vehicles rather than favoring any one channel. Consider how the audience likes to receive information. Speak in bullet points to make messages easy to scan and digest, and connect the dots for the recipient. This cuts down on the time-sucking back-and-forth that goes on when more clarification is needed. It also helps to keep people informed and interested. Share these techniques with your team. Provide guidance. Don’t tolerate ineffective communication.

Are any of your communications getting lost in translation?

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