The Secret to Better Communication - THINKERS Notebook

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The Secret to Better Communication

On a daily basis, what do you spend the most time thinking about?

My hunch is that somewhere near the top of your list (and everyone's list) is communication, in some form or another.

You might think about:

  • What you're going to present in your afternoon meeting.
  • What you're going to write in an email reply.
  • What you're going to say to your partner the morning after a difficult argument.

Or a thousand other things throughout the day. You're a human. It's simple reality that you're going to spend an inordinate amount of your time each day communicating. 

A lot of this communication is extemporaneous and in the moment, or non-verbal, so you can't really prepare for it or even control it.

But other communication is more planned-out and deliberate. At a minimum, there are a few seconds or minutes to prepare for opening our mouths or hitting Send.

Which is why you should take care to think about how you will communicate as clearly and effectively as possible. 

Perhaps you already do.

You'll know by answering this simple question:

Do you spend more time thinking about what you're going to say or who you're going to say it to?

If you're like most people, your knee-jerk response to this question will be that you spend more time on the what. 

  • You say the words.
  • You write the sentences.
  • You craft the argument.

But if you want to communicate as effectively as possible, you need to make sure that your initial thinking about any piece of communication centers on the who before you ever consider the what.

This will shape your thinking in a way that will allow your eventual communication to be as effective and well-received as possible. 

What might that look like? Well, using the examples from above ...

  • Instead of planning a presentation based on the information you're most interested in, orient it around what your audience most needs to know. (What you may lose in ease of preparation you may gain in the impact of your presentation.)
  • Instead of firing off a quick email reply that dumps an accurate but unwieldy stream of consciousness into someone else's inbox, take a minute to consider the essential information your recipient(s) need to know and cut the rest. (A little extra time on this email may be able to save them time reading and solve the issue at hand to prevent future replies.)
  • Instead of opening right back up with either a continuation of the argument or an apology, consider if the timing is right for the other person while they are preparing for work. (If the communication won't immediately ameliorate the situation, then maybe it's best to wait until later.)

Effectively assessing your who before communicating requires knowing something about the person or people you're interacting with.
  • What are they like?
  • What are their worldviews?
  • What are your common interests or clear differences?
  • What is their schedule? What will they be doing upon receiving your communication?
  • What has happened to them recently that might be affecting their mood or thought processes?

And on and on.

In other words, you need to understand the existing beliefs they bring to the conversation, the context they might they need for your communication to make sense, and what might going on inside or around them that might affect the way they receive your message.

The point is: don't start crafting your message, or least don't start delivering it, until you've spent some time thinking about who it's going to and the mental, physical, emotional, and even temporal and spatial state they'll be in upon receiving it.

This is the path to more effective communication. 

Think first about the who, and then consider the what.

In this week's THINKERS Roundup, you'll find three links that will help you be a more strategic, empathic, and effective communicator.


The first step in understanding who you are communicating with is to listen

"But leading and communicating with empathy isn’t always easy. Businessolver’s 2019 State of Workplace Empathy Report found that, despite 78% of employees being willing to work longer hours for a more empathetic employer, the majority (58%) of CEOs struggle to consistently exemplify empathy in their daily work life. 

"'For anyone that thinks [it’s] a touchy-feely thing, or a soft skill, try it sometime,” Jeff says. “It's one of the hardest things you'll ever do as a manager.'

That isn’t to say that empathy and compassion can’t be learned and developed."

Read: How to Become a More Empathetic Communicator — and Why It Will Make You a Better Leader (LinkedIn Talent Blog)

Learn from the marketers (who get paid to understand who they are targeting)

"What is a worldview? It’s a descriptive model of the world. Your worldview, whether you’re aware of it or not, answers questions such as:

  • What should we do next?
  • What is true and false?
  • How should we attain our goals?
  • How do we explain our intentions?

"Your worldview is not systematically developed. You don’t sit down, set your chin on your fist, and say, “What do I need to do to become a postmodern pragmatist?”

"No. Your worldview develops over time. Your parents, friends, education, experiences, and your genetic makeup all influence your worldview. And, like your favorite Instagram filter, it colors how you see the world.

"As we get older, we can choose and change this filter, but because our worldview informs everything we do, think, and say, a dramatic challenge to it can feel devastating."

Read: Tap into This Psychological Driver to Create the Ultimate Message (Copyblogger)

Be more present in the moment.

"Dr. Strohman says that we can prevent anxious feelings over smartphone use by creating boundaries that are non-negotiable for ourselves. Healthy phone boundaries might include not using it during a meal, when you’re in a social situation, before bedtime, or in the bathroom. It might also mean creating set time limits for how long you spend on your phone or a particular app."

Read: Communication Is Not What You Think (Forbes)

Quote of the week

"There is only one rule for being a good talker – learn to listen.”  

-- Christopher Morley