One of the most important jobs a leader has is to convey information in a way that allows for the most productive interpretation. Your goal is to tell a complete story. If you’ve ever taken a journalism class, you’ve probably been taught that basic information gathering requires that you answer the five Ws—who, what, where, when, why, and sometimes how. In business you’ll usually change the order (how, what, why, who, when) so that you answer questions as they’re asked by your audience. A good habit is to plan your communications so that you consistently cover the following aspects:
- How: Demonstrate how to respond—if you’re excited about your subject, they will be too. It’s of utmost importance that you help them understand how to interpret what you’re about to tell them. For example, anxiety and excitement are the same feeling—they just have a different “story” around them—so you would want to steer your audience toward excitement rather than anxiety by demonstrating excitement yourself.
- What: State your subject. If you need something from your audience, be specific in your “ask.”
- Why: Give your team a frame of reference so that they can put your news in context. For instance, if you are implementing a new system you might tell them that key competitors have a competitive advantage if you don’t change your process (and provide details if appropriate).
- Who: Connect your news to what it means for them in practical terms, e.g., here’s how it will benefit you or change how you’re doing your job.
- When: Usually it’s hard to be specific if there are a lot of moving parts. You want to manage expectations so you should provide at least a general timeframe.
Get in the habit of checking to see if all your communication covers these items. (Caution: when using email/voicemail, be as concise as possible!) Doing so will reduce the amount of back-and-forth emails/voicemails because you will have provided a complete picture of what you need.
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