When you don't understand how different people prefer to communicate, effective communication is almost impossible. In this article, we will explore different ways of communicating with your team and discuss who should be responsible for ensuring that the message is understood.
Who is responsible for ensuring the message is understood?
The whole point of communicating with someone, no matter how you do it, is to convey a message of some kind to that person. We all understand that, we have done it all our lives, even before we could talk. So who is the onus on to ensure that message is understood correctly, the person doing the communicating, or the person receiving the communication?
I don't think there will be too much shock or uproar by me just stating it's the person doing the communicating that is responsible for ensuring the message is understood. But that leads me straight to the next question ... why do we not care?
Why don't we care if people understand us?
This might seem like a flippant question. But it honestly seems to be true. You could easily argue (as you'll see in a moment) that I don't right now. We all seem to understand that it is on us to convey our message in a way that is understood. Yet we all seem too default to defining that as one thing. It might be, speaking clearly on a call, writing a clear message, or writing a clear email. But as we all know, not everyone is the same. You'll know from some of my other articles, I'm a big fan of Myers-Briggs personality types. And you will know how they impact different learning styles from my article on spotting stressed employees. So it's not unreasonable to also assume that different people on your team are going to need to receive information in different ways.
Getting a lay of the land!
As a manager, we are naturally going to have a bias in our default ways of communicating. For me as an Introverted Thinker, I like to give and receive information in written form. So I will likely default to sending you a message in Slack/Teams. And if I don't use an Instant Message, it's probably going to be an email. But that is my bias. I know all too well that my wife's preferred method of receiving information as an Extroverted Feeler is verbal. So if we were working together, she would much prefer to have a chat about something on a call or in person than to get a written message.
Knowing this, the solution to ensuring you communicate the right way with someone is pretty simple. Ask them.
In your next 1:1, if you don't already know, ask your report how they prefer to receive information from you. Do they want a quick direct message, a lengthy email, a phone call, a video chat, or some other method of communication? Take note of it, and try to use that method when you need to convey a message.
Hold up! It's not that simple ...
What if I need a paper trail for HR? What if I'm communicating with a team of 20 people? You can't create and give a custom message to every single recipient!
And I wouldn't expect you to. For one, that is very likely to result in people having different understandings of the message. And that is a very bad thing. This is where you need to start to think more strategically. How important is this message? How complicated is the topic at hand? In most cases, you can convey the message in a way that gives everyone the best chance of understanding. So here is my framework for choosing how to send out a communication;
Picking the right ways to communicate.
How many people am I communicating with?
First off, am I communicating with one person, or with multiple people?
When talking with multiple people, to ensure it's understood by everyone you should use all the tools at your disposal.
- Send out a group message letting people know you're about to send an email and include any resources for them on the subject that are available.
- Send out an email inviting them to attend a meeting, and re-including the same resource links as the message.
- In the calendar invite include a summary of the meeting purpose, the agenda, desired outcomes, and again, links to the resources.
- Have the meeting, take notes (or assign someone else to) and record the session.
- Afterwards, put the summary notes and recording into a document in a shared space (Wikis are great for this)
- Send out an email and group message to thank people for attending, summarise the agreed actions (or decision(s) taken) and a link to the document containing the notes and/or the recording.
Congratulations, you have thoroughly covered all methods of communication, and have a solid audit trail of decisions made and why.
A Single Person.
Firstly, does the type of message need an audit trail (HR/Legal reasons etc)? Secondly, how does the recipient like to receive information?
An audit Trail is needed.
Prefers written comms:
- Send an email (which is best for audit reasons)
- Send a direct message summarising the email letting them know it has been sent.
- Try to converse via email.
Prefers verbal comms:
- Send an email inviting them to a meeting, summarising the purpose of the meeting.
- Record the meeting (for audit reasons)
No audit needed.
Prefers written comms:
- Send them the message by whatever written communication channel they prefer.
Prefers verbal comms:
- Give them a call, or arrange a meeting however they prefer.
It might seem like a lot of effort to go too. But trust me, it saves far more time going to these efforts than it does re-having meetings to correct misunderstandings, fixing legal problems because you don't have an audit trail, or correcting the bad outcomes of making poor decisions.
As the saying states "Go slow, to go fast".
Now I guess I should go and turn this into an audio recording to take my own medicine right? ... 🤔