Checklist For Effective One-Way Communication

March 25, 2015

In my previous post, I complained about people who transmit one-way messages and think they’ve communicated.  You can read the full post here. Essentially, the point is that transmitting a message without confirming whether or not it was received and, more importantly, how it was interpreted means you haven’t really communicated at all.  But I know from talking to many of you that one-way transmission is a reality for you, I want to provide some tips for how to do it better.

What do I mean by one-way communication?  Think of a weekly blog, a quarterly town hall presentation, a memo to all staff announcing a major restructuring.

Your most significant communication challenge with any of these is that your intent when crafting the message doesn’t match with the impact it has on your audience.  When crafting a one-way message that’s going out to a number of people, take the time to think through how you want it to land. It will probably take you about 5 minutes and yield huge benefits. Work through these categories:

Know

After they receive the message from you, what do you want your audience to know? What facts and information do they need?  Think through this category first, but make sure that you revisit your answers after you’ve thought about the other categories.  Make sure you’ve included all the facts and information needed to support the perception and action you’re trying to create.

Think

On top of the layer of facts and information, you need to add the layer of perception.  How do you want people to interpret the facts and information you provided?  Saying that you are 60% of the way to your annual target might leave one person thinking that you are progressing well and another person thinking that the 40% gap is too large to close.  If you want people making one conclusion more than the other, you will either need to add facts (e.g., last year at this time, we were only 49% of the way there and we only came up 2% short) or add you interpretation (e.g., I know from experience that 40% is well within our reach).

Feel

If you’re working toward action, you need to stir something in your audience that goes well beyond intellect; you need to evoke the emotions that will power their behavior.  What are you trying to tap into? It’s really important to be explicit about what feelings you’re trying to create because one-way communication leaves room for very different emotional reactions.  In the example, do you want people to feel excited by the chance to close the 40% gap? If so, how are you reducing the likelihood that they go straight to fear of failure? The tone of your message comes out in the words you choose.  Choose wisely.

Do

Hopefully you weren’t just sending a message to add another email to everyone’s inbox or to fill another hour of talking head presentations at your conference.  Ideally, you are communicating because you want people to do something differently. What is it that you want them to do?  Does closing the gap mean phoning one customer each morning before opening their email? Are you asking them to recommend one complementary product each time someone makes a purchase? Don’t forget to make the ask.

Know

Now don’t forget to cycle back to the Know category.  Did you capture all the facts and information that will support what you want your audience to think, how you want them to feel, and what you want them to do?  Were there enough facts to provide the right context?  Fill in any that are needed to round out the picture.

As much as I worry about the room for misinterpretation, misperception, and mistrust that comes from one-way transmission of information, it’s a necessary evil for most leaders.  To increase the likelihood that your messages have the intended impact, spend some time thinking about what you want your audience to know, to think, to feel, and to do after hearing your message. It won’t replace two-way communication, but it will greatly increase the likelihood that you make a connection.

Just for Fun

After reading this post, I want you to know the four elements to consider when crafting a communication.  I want you to think that this is a quick, easy process that you could apply frequently in your role.  I want you to feel excited about the prospect of improving your communication and a little anxious about how your previous communications landed. I want you to do it the next time you have an important message to convey.

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