Ever feel like you say the same things to the same people… over and over and over… without ever getting the results you’re hoping for? 

You might imagine that those around you are just not listening… but, in reality, this is rarely the root problem. More often, the real issue is that our communication isn’t aligned with the outcomes we desire. 

Fortunately, you have more influence than you might think over how others hear, understand, and react to your communications. 

The trick to get clear on the outcomes you really want — and then build a communication strategy around getting those results.

Step 1: Get Clear On Your Desired Outcomes

To get the results you want from your communication, you need to be clear on what you want.

We often default to communication that feels easier, more conformable, or more emotionally satisfying for us. We focus too much on what we want to say and not enough on what the other person needs. 

So as you approach any communication, put the outcomes front and center:

What do you want people to know, think, feel, and do as a result of your communication? What results do you want to see?

Once you’re clear on all the responses you want, you can begin crafting communications to produce those results.

Step 2: Consider the 5 Ws

So how do you produce effective communication that moves you toward your goals? 

Consider the 5 W’s: 

  • WHAT effect you hope to achieve 
  • WHY this communication is important
  • To WHOM you’re communicating
  • WHICH channel will be most effective for the message and the audience
  • And WHEN the communication will be most useful and effective

Taking a moment to consider all 5 Ws can prevent avoidable blunders, like burying vital information in the middle of a long email thread or launching a complex discussion at 4pm on a Friday afternoon.

And it can also help you craft a message that’s easier for recipients to hear, absorb, and respond to. 

For example, imagine that you’re instituting a new procedure that you need everyone to adopt. 

You could announce the changes in the last 5 minutes of a meeting or send an email telling everyone to start the new process on Monday. Some people will pay attention and make the change — but many won’t.

Far better to consider your desired outcomes — and then apply the 5 Ws.

  • If you want people to commit to the new procedure, you’ll need to frame the request in a way that helps them understand WHY it’s important and identify and address potential barriers to compliance.
  • You’ll need to understand WHO your audience is, so you can think through WHAT context, information, and instructions they will need in order to successfully execute the new procedure.
  • You’ll want to consider WHEN people will be most receptive to learning and applying the new procedure. If the team is scrambling to meet a tight deadline, then you might want to wait until there’s more bandwidth. 
  • And if the procedure is complex or is likely to provoke lots of questions, you’ll need to consider WHEN and WHAT in that context — how often will you need to communicate? What’s the best way to answer questions, deliver training, and provide support?
  • The answers to those questions will inform WHICH channel(s) you use. Is the communication best delivered in writing, in person, individually, in small groups, in large meetings, via video, or some combination of all these things?

Tailor Your Communications for Better Results

In short, effective communication is a two-step process:

  1. Get clear on the results you really want — what you want others to think, feel, and do in response to your communication.
  2. As you craft your communication strategy, consider the 5 Ws and make your content and delivery decisions accordingly.

Many of us do both these steps unconsciously a great deal of the time — especially in one-on-one situations. But we’re all guilty of sometimes charging ahead with what we want to say, without taking into account the results we want to generate

And in a business setting, sometimes the organizational culture gets in the way of strategic communication. We may end up communicating in channels, styles, and messaging that are common in the organization, rather than considering what will work best for this specific situation.

Taking a few moments to get clear on the outcomes you want can help you tailor your communications strategy for those outcomes. And that means you’ll be able stop repeating yourself and start getting things done.

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