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Truth 2 Seek to Understand Your Recipient

From its earliest roots, communication has focused on sender and recipient having some common understanding of the information flowing between them. This means focusing not only on what you are broadcasting but also on what the other person is receiving. Too many times in business we default to thinking about communication from an outbound perspective (what we want to tell someone) instead of from an inbound perspective (what the recipient expects). I've seen plenty of reports, presentations, surveys, status reports, and just about any other type of communication go bust because the sender of the information didn't take the time to understand what the recipients were interested in, how they liked to receive information, and what was being asked of them.

In my career I have learned many lessons the hard way about understanding my recipient's communication preferences. Whether it was inappropriate drop-ins, written versus verbal communication, or raising issues to the wrong person, I've seemed to make just about every mistake you can make. After licking my wounds, I've learned to accept the mistakes as gems and understand how to better read my recipient when it comes to communication preferences.

Some of the most effective communicators I have worked with throughout my career were outstanding at understanding the following:

  • Who needed to be communicated to
  • What information they needed to help them do their job
  • Why they needed information
  • How they preferred to communicate
  • How often they needed communication
  • When they preferred communication to happen

Implementing and tailoring your communication method to your recipient can go a long way toward saving you countless hours of frustration and anxiety. For example, one of my favorite managers (and mentors) at Microsoft had a very distinct communication style:

  • He liked to stay high-level and drill down into detail where he had questions.
  • He liked to focus on areas where his input or decision was needed.
  • He preferred verbal, face-to-face interaction versus e-mail.
  • He did not like nonurgent, random phone calls or drop-ins.
  • He liked to have biweekly one-on-one meetings and reserved time on his calendar to be available.
  • He liked to know how I was thinking about solutions to my own problems versus my just dumping a problem on his doorstep.

When I started working for this manager, I quickly picked up on his communication style. Through subsequent interactions (and making a few mistakes), I adapted my style to his and zeroed in on the right communication approach. Throughout my duration with him, we had an outstanding working relationship, which all started with my understanding his communication idiosyncrasies and tailoring my style to meet his needs.

Take a little time to understand the communication preferences of those you interact with on a regular basis.What if you don't know your recipient's preferences? Try some of these ideas:
  • Ask about her communication preferences. Plan your questions, and set up a time to interview her on how she likes to communicate. Generally, people love to talk about themselves, and you'll likely get a lot of good information on how she likes to communicate.
  • Watch how she communicates. Does she typically work with her door open or closed? Do others "drop in" for discussion? Does she keep a tight, structured calendar, or does she allow for flexibility? Does she like to stay on point during meetings, or is she open to some meandering in the conversation? Take a period of time—say, a week—and take good notes on how she interacts.
  • Ask others. Coworkers or an administrative assistant might have some great insight into how your recipient likes to communicate. Get the scoop from someone else who has experience with the recipient.

Take a little time up front to understand the communication preferences of those you interact with on a regular basis. Be proactive about asking about preferences, observing communication styles, and getting coaching from others. You'll find that you will get more done in less time, you'll reduce your frustration level, and you'll ensure that your point gets across more effectively.

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