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Ten Tips for Preventing Communications Breakdowns

We stared blankly as our colleague made a short, incomprehensible report. We asked questions, and he repeated himself twice, blaming the group for not understanding him. What went wrong?

One reason that communications breakdowns occur is that some people speak and write before they have decided what to say. Another reason is that people often assume their audience knows more than it actually knows. Here is what you can do to make sure your message gets through to your customers and clients.

  • Think first. Who is your audience, and what do they want/need to know? What do you want to tell them?
  • Provide a context for your message. If your message concerns a new software application, illustrate or quantify the problem the software solves. Keep the background information short, however.
  • Explain assumptions. In financial forecasts note when you have made allowances for inflation and also report what rate you have used.
  • Define jargon and professional terms, or substitute lay terminology. A bad hematoma sounds much more critical than a bad bruise!
  • Spell out all acronyms when you first use them. CPI may mean Consumer Price Index to you, but Cost Performance Index to someone in your audience.
  • Explain unfamiliar concepts, technical terms, and formulas. Investment articles for lay audiences should explain that "beta" is a measure of the risk of a security or portfolio compared with the market as a whole.
  • Use examples to define common terms that have special meaning for your profession. "You can sell your car to your teenager 'for consideration'" simply means the teenager should give you a dollar or something of worth to make the transfer of ownership official.
  • When your audience is clearly puzzled, ask questions and solicit questions. Learn to interpret body language when making oral presentations. Be sensitive to the tone and content of the email messages you receive.
  • Periodically summarize or repeat major points to enhance understanding. This is especially important in longer presentations and documents.
  • Prepare a glossary of terms that have puzzled your customers or clients, and distribute it when needed.

Have a clear idea of why you are communicating; what major points you wish to make; and what results you wish to achieve. Then, assess your audience. Clearly a lay audience needs more definitions and explanations than an audience made up of your peers. Have someone outside your profession proofread drafts or listen to presentations to help you isolate points that are unclear or terms that need defining.

Market Intelligence for Growing Companies © May, 2013

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