But as one climbs higher in one's career, perhaps no other skill is as important as the ability to communicate well. Indeed, how a manager communicates to her board of directors, colleagues, employees, customers, stakeholders and the public at large can make or break jobs, careers and even organisations. Despite the importance of this skill, it is seen as something basic one should have picked up while growing up or at school Ė therefore, not worth bothering about and improving on at workplaces. Yet the reality at workplaces is different. Tales abound of missed promotions, missed sales, irate customers, and company-wide conflicts Ė all due to poor communications.
One important aspect of communications is to understand how the other side receives the content of one's messages, be they letters to shareholders or advertisements in the media. To be effective, one has to adopt an audience-centric view of communications. This is easier said than done, of course. But a 2007 book, Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, shows how messages can be put together to make them 'stick' in the minds of the intended audience.
According to the Heath brothers, who are associated with teaching communications at Stanford, the six elements of successful messages are:
Simplicity: is the message easy to understand? Most readers quickly forget the messages contained in various development reports because even the executive summaries of those reports use tediously complex language. But the same readers do remember the content of a trashy novel because of its simplicity.
Unexpectedness: the human brain ignores what is routine. It notices what is different. For other people's brains to pay attention, what's the unexpected twist in your messages? Stand-up comedians use this insight all the time: they start by saying something routine, only to throw in an unexpected twist to grab your attention and make you laugh.
Concreteness: does the message use concrete language? Good communicators use words to paint pictures in their readers' minds through metaphors and the like. In Nepali conversations, I've noticed that most otherwise highly educated people go on and on, sprinkling their sentences with ambiguous 'yo', 'tyo', 'yesari', and so on without being concrete about what 'yo' or 'tyo' specifically mean.
Credibility: why should anyone believe your messages? When crises strike at a company, nobody believes what the company's public relations officers say. People are more likely to pay attention to what the CEO or the chairman says or what the business media says. Who delivers the message is as important as what the message says.
Emotions: the Heath brothers write that humans "are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions". Organisational messages may not contain emotions, but they can be rewritten to tell human interest stories for the audience to relate to.
Stories: people pay attention to stories. Yet story-telling is seen as something that belongs in kindergarten and not in workplaces.
These six elements could well be the key to making messages stick. Conveniently, they make up the acronym SUCCES.