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Situational Awareness Is A Key To Improving Communication

A porpoise and a cow jumping out of the water. Communicate with FINESSE!
Getting your boss’s boss to understand depends on the stage. Each stage is different, and you are not meant to perform on every stage. (picture:

We communicate in many forums. Unfortunately, most of us learn one formal communication style and apply it to every situation. Being effective equates to situational awareness and adapting your communication approach to the forum in which you find yourself.

Business Meetings

This first communication forum is the frequent team meetings where business professionals commonly present their work. There are two subsets within this communication forum. The first is the technical working meetings where decision makers are not involved. Details are much more important because the purpose of the meeting is, of course, to work out the technical issues before taking them to the decision maker. Constructive friction, laborious discussions of problem boundaries, debates on underlying assumptions, and the need or limitations of available resources are all fair game in this forum.

The second subset within this forum is the communication with the decision maker(s). The key in this situation is to fill the role of key advisor. It is usually tempting to try to advocate or even manipulate a position; however, unless you are the decision maker— the allocator of resources — then your role is that of key advisor. Communicating in a truthful, ethical manner is the key to being effective. And interestingly, the more complex and uncertain a problem then the less that advocacy will improve your communications. Be the trusted advisor to the decision maker — leave persuasion and manipulation to marketers and politicians.

Public Speaking

In my definition, public speaking involves providing 30- to 60-minute presentations to community-based organizations, stakeholder groups, or professional societies. For most business professionals, this type of public speaking may take the topical form of information about a new product or technology, a response to a major threat in the market, or a summary of actions taken on a specific business problem. Lunch or dinner presentations, keynote speeches, and many conference presentations fall into this category.

Public speaking is about the entertainment value. Said another way, business presentations are problem-oriented while public speaking is speaker-oriented. The communication frame is more related to sensory communication — see, hear, touch, taste, smell — than to interpretive communication that is practiced by most business professionals. The take-away is to be conscious that anything done for the showmanship of public speaking is also a source of noise that distracts from effective communication in a business setting.

The Media

Interaction with the media is a third communication forum. Individuals in the media come in all shapes and sizes, just like any other profession. There are several major types of media: newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and social media. Each has subcategories, such as local newspapers versus major market newspapers or general magazines versus technical journals. Each major type and subtype of media are looking for slightly different information or takes different perspectives. The safe assumption is that all of the media is looking for an explosive headline to tap the ever-shortening news cycle.

Let the trained professionals handle communication in this forum. If you are not trained in media communications, have the self-awareness that communicating to business decision makers is more about the long haul and trustworthiness. While effective with the media in the short term, the same approaches using sensationalism and manipulation will undermine your credibility and effectiveness with decision makers in a different forum. Interaction with the elected officials is a fourth communication forum. Politics have been described as the way one group of civilized people exerts its will on another group of civilized people. Persuasion and manipulation rule the day. The starting and ending point for business professionals is to leave communication with elected officials to the formally trained communication experts. If pressed into this communication forum, have a few well-developed talking points in advance and avoid additional commentary on those points.

One of the most challenging aspects of dealing with politicians and decision makers is that they can be one and the same. The question that you should ask related to presenting at a Board of Directors meeting (or any kind of leadership meeting) is whether the meeting is about decision making or whether it is political theater. Often the decisions have been made before the public showing. Ask that questions and adjust your communications approach accordingly.

Moving Forward

Most of us look for effective ways to get our boss’s boss to understand. When you are with the boss’s boss — a decision maker — remember that your role is of an ethical, trusted advisor. Save the weedy details for those internal meetings with your peers. Deliver your communications in a neutral, ethical, fact-based manner in the presence of decision makers. Be clear where you believe there are uncertainties in your analysis and evaluations.

Public speaking is for entertainment value. Shift gears and make the presentation about you and the people in the audience. However, leave communication in forums associated with the media and with politicians to the professionals. It takes quite a bit of training and experience to communicate effectively in these forums.

We communicate in many forums. Unfortunately, most of us learn one formal communication style and apply it to every situation. Being effective equates to situational awareness and adapting your communication approach to the forum in which you find yourself.


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