By Bob Bugle
In the November issue of “Bugle Calls”, we focused on The Art of Communication: Part 1, where we explored how human beings are “wired” to communicate face-to-face. More than 90% of the information we receive and convey involves body language, facial expressions and tone of voice, with less than 10% based on the actual content of the message. In the information/digital age, this becomes problematic given that most of our communication is now electronic; forcing a greater emphasis on making sure the content is conveyed succinctly and without ambiguity.
As we all know this is easier said than done. With no body language or facial expressions to view, we are often left with attempting to determine meaning and intention from text alone. If the message is simply a statement of fact; ( Example: “The Staff meeting is scheduled for Monday at 8:00 am in the main conference room”), the intent of the message is pretty clear. If however the message is “Please schedule a meeting with me next week to discuss your department’s performance over the last quarter.”, without any further explanation, many of us would be filled with mixed emotions, even if we are confident our department performed well during that period of time.
But being aware of our body language and tone of voice in one-on-one conversations, and placing extra emphasis on making sure the intent and meaning of all written correspondence is as clear as possible, is only part of the communication equation. Because we as people tend to communicate with others the way we ourselves like to be communicated with, we often risk conveying the right message in the wrong way. Understanding how the person or group we are communicating with best learns and absorbs information relates directly to our ability to communicate effectively with them.
A good example of this concept is comparing the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. First, let’s take a look at the similarities: both are newspapers, publish nationally, are professionally written, enjoy large readership, have solid reputations and are highly successful. Now let’s look at the differences: USA Today is printed in full color, while the Wall Street Journal is printed in black and white. USA Today has lots of photos, while the Wall Street Journal has virtually none. USA Today is designed to offer readers “the big picture” with only one article appearing on more than one page. Like many business/financial publications, the Wall Street Journal offers “in-depth” analysis with lots of facts and figures to document/support/add credibility to the author’s position.
While surely there is some cross readership, clearly both USA Today and the Wall Street Journal are designed to appeal to very different audiences. Readers of the Wall Street Journal tend to be very detail-oriented, requiring in-depth analyses of issues and supporting data in order to make their own determination as to whether or not the author of the article has drawn the proper conclusion. Since facts and correct analyses of trends in business and government policy are important to Wall Street Journal readers, color is not necessary, and might even be viewed as a distraction.
USA Today readers are looking for the “big picture”. They want to know the highlights of a number of areas, including news, sports, travel and popular culture. If an article or issue is of special interest, they know they have numerous sources that they can access to gain further understanding or additional perspective. They’re very “visual” people so colorful images are appealing.
If we’re planning a presentation to a room full of USA Today readers, we need to be sure to include visual elements that will both entertain and inform. Make sure the presentation is well paced, colorful, and provides an appropriate level of detail so that the presentation covers what needs to be covered without being overly analytical. If we are presenting to a room full of Wall Street Journal readers, leave the animation and sound bites behind. Make sure to stay on point, provide all of the supporting data required, and expect to be questioned if our audience doesn’t think our data points are sound or our position remains unsubstantiated.
So what happens if we read our audience incorrectly? At best, we have done an incomplete job of conveying our position, whether our focus is the benefits to be gained by taking action, or the loss to be incurred by inaction. At worst we have now jeopardized our credibility which can have long term negative effects.
If we have presented to a Wall Street journal audience in a manner that appeals to USA Today readers, we probably included lots of visuals that may be perceived as extraneous and distracting, and not provided the level of detail required to substantiate/validate our position.
If we presented to a USA Today audience using a format geared to Wall Street Journal readers, our presentation was possibly uninteresting, and weighted down with data to the point where we risked losing our audience.
What is even worse is that in both scenarios, our audience may have become suspicious. Wall Street Journal readers might wonder what details we are leaving out. USA Today readers might wonder what is buried deep down in that “data dump”. What data is there supposedly for the sake of accuracy, but which we really don’t want to be seen?
As people, we tend to communicate with others the way we ourselves like to be communicated with. Effective communication requires us to “step outside the box,” so to speak, and focus on the other person and how they best receive information. It may be difficult for us at first because we have to “re-think” how we do what we do and falling back into old habits is always easy. However, if we are able to correctly read our audience and respond to them appropriately, the rewards, both personally and professionally, are great.