The strategic use of any
communication involves making choices.
Effective communication can happen by dumb luck. A
person happens to
choose the best type of communication for the situation, happens upon
exactly the information the audience needs to hear, and winds up with a
successful outcome. Effective communication can also happen by
following the rules, doing precisely what the boss or the audience asks
for. The communicator might not have a clue why or how the job
should be done this way, but the outcome is nevertheless
If the outcome is successful, what is the downside of being lucky? Or of mindlessly following the rules?
The problem is that every situation is new; every communicator is
trying to accomplish a unique goal and every audience wants and needs
something slightly different. The words that produced a
lucky result one time might fail miserably the next. The rules
devised by one boss for one specific audience might be wildly
inappropriate for the next company or the next client.
What's a person to do? The effective communicator, over the long haul, must be a strategic communicator. This simply means that choices are made in the selection of an action, and those choices are made to most effectively acheive a given goal.
An effective communicator doesn't just do the first thing that
pops into his or her head, act out of habit, or take the easiet
possible route. Which is not to say that the first thing that
comes to mind can't ever turn out to be the best thing, but.... Dumb luck is not a good thing on which to build a career.
A strategic communicator should be able to answer four questions about every communication:
1. What is my goal?
Actually, there might be both short term and long term goals to
deal with, and there might be multiple goals relating to different
members of the audience, different members of the work team, or
different business functions. There might even be conflicting
goals among various stakeholders in the situation. The question
is simple enough, but be prepared to deal with some very complicated
2. What communication method is most likely to succeed? Another
simple question with potentially complicated answers. What
defines success, for instance? Speed? accuracy? comfort level of
the audience? cost to the communicator? Further, communication
tools differ in what they do well. Email is fast and cheap, for
instance, but not very accurate when it comes to conveying emotions.
It might even be rejected as "too informal" for some situations
or some audiences, and thus completely ineffective at making a good
impression. If that were a more important goal than simply
conveying information, the communication could backfire badly.
3. What content should the communication include? Content
includes not only the objective facts included in the words or
figures of the message, but also the relationship information that is
communicated with such things as word style, emotional tone, or
document design. Will the message seem like it came from a
businesslike person? a friendly person? an uneducated person? a
disorganized person? a detail-oriented person? These are easily
the most important choices that need to be made, and often the most
4. Did it work? Since
there can be a certain amount of guesswork in answering questions 2 and
3, the effective communicator is also careful to evaluate results,
looking for clues about the accuracy of those guesses. A
strategic communicator will set up a feedback loop to determine the
success of every effort. This might be as complicated as a
marketing research survey or collecting customer satisfaction cards.
It could be as simple as paying attention to the non-verbal
responses when you mention something to a co-worker.