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Effective Communication

I was discussing communication with a number of people this week where they were expressing some frustration around not achieving the results that they were expecting.  I have adopted a  fictional character called Larry who wants to communicate an idea to some key stakeholders.  In an effort to communicate effectively, Larry has adopted a structured approach where he has laid out the the problem, the options and finally the solution. In the graphic below, I have created a graphical representation of the flow of the communication.


Now, let’s take a look at this this flow.  The black lines illustrate where Larry is communicating the problem, the options and finally the solution.   The yellowish lines indicate the flow from element to element.

Although this is a very structured approach that is well laid out.  Unfortunately, as Larry found out his listeners wanting and he was not able to convince his stakeholders.  This is often the case when a new idea is being presented or when the listeners are unfamiliar with the background.  Because people need to catch up and from zero to where they can understand Larry’s definition of the problem.  Literally they need to from 0 to 60 in 2 2 seconds flat.  Also because they are still processing one element while Larry has moved onto the next element, the listeners missed portions of the options or solution definitions.

Now let’s take a look at a modified version of this flow where Larry actually took a breath and checked with his listeners to make sure that they were grasping the concepts that he was trying to communicate.  Quite literally he slowed down in order to speed up.


Just like the previous graphic, the black line illustrate the problem definition.  The yellowish lines indicate the flow from element to element.  Now let’s introduce some key elements that will change the flow drastically.  The green circles with the cross inside are there to provide the stakeholders with some time to think and process what Larry told them.  As the stakeholders process the information, they might have questions, as indicated by the question marks.  Larry needs to provide them with the opportunity to ask questions and/or provide feedback.  Why feedback, you might ask.  Well it is human nature that we all need to feel heard and respected and therefore it is common for the stakeholder want to add their 2 cents.

This dialogue portion is critical to overcoming any fears or concerns that the stakeholders might have.  As the stakeholders buy into what Larry is telling them, he needs to draw them in, with open ended questions and encouraging them to provide input.  In the graphic, the blue line denotes where Larry has gathered the stakeholder input, feedback and incorporating it into the definition of  Problem, Options and Solution.  By getting the stakeholders to help, all that remains is for you to paint in the remaining black portion.

This approach has some key benefits:

  • people feel respected because they were given time to process and ask questions
  • people do not feel dictated to
  • the options and solutions move from a single person;s idea to a collaborative idea
  • it takes less sales to get everyone on board because the baby is partly theirs and we all know that your baby is never ugly

Try this technique and please let me know what you think.

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