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The New Rules of Communication :: Rule #1 = Focus on One Thing

The tools we have to facilitate effective communication couldn’t be any easier, however, the challenges of effective communication couldn’t be more difficult.

Leaders embrace their role in shaping culture and vision and expectations and hope through the ways they communicate with their people. But, they also recognize that the proliferation of digital tools and platforms for communication has fueled an onslaught of content that overwhelms people every day.

The sheer torrent of information we all face is giving birth to new and changing “rules” and strategies for insuring that our message gets heard above the din. Content matters, but the way you deliver that content matters more than ever.

I heard a comment from someone a while back that I think puts the depth our communication challenge into laser-like focus. Think about all the implications of this statement. “I never scroll down to read anything beyond the first screen.”

So, what do you do as a leader? How do we capture attention and communicate effectively in a world where words and images are everywhere? Where short-attention spans and 160 character messages are common? Where inboxes continuously overflow? Where email, social media, podcasts, blogs, vlogs, collaborative project management, and more compete for the attention of our people?

Since communication is only 7% words and 93% non-verbal, how can we communicate more effectively when the 93% is compromised by people working remotely or sequestered at home because of a pandemic?

This post is the first in a series of four offering what I would call, “the new rules of communication.” It’s not that the old rules of story-telling, structure, pathos, and more don’t count. They still matter. It’s just that a new day demands new approaches to the way we communicate that make the difference between message sent and message received.

Rule #1 :: Focus on One Thing

Have you ever been frustrated to find out that people didn’t really read your detailed email? Have you ever been tempted to drop an “Easter Egg” deep into the content of a lengthy email, just to see who is still reading? That easter egg temptation should probably give you a clue, you already know that most people don’t carefully read all the way to the end of lengthy multi-faceted pieces of information.

I get it. Digital real estate is free and you have a lot of things that need to be said. It is easy to say to yourself, while I have their attention, I should also mention these other two or three issues. Next thing you know email is wandering into the dreaded territory of a "I'm not paying attention anymore." It’s no wonder that newspapers—remember them—prize the real estate above the fold.

Choose the one thing that is most important and focus on that one thing. Fight the temptation to add something else. Brevity is your friend.

Look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself the truth: LESS is MORE.

It doesn’t matter how well written, how important, or even how timely it is. Run long or add multiple subjects to your single piece of communication and you do so at the peril of your message being heard. It doesn’t matter whether the underlying problem is the sheer volume of information people face or the fact that we have trained one another into short attention spans. Effective communication is always audience focused and your audience will hear you better if you focus on one compelling thing.

I know you are such a powerful communicator that it’s possible you can skip this rule. However, for the rest of us mortals, the moment we try to communicate multiple issues in a single pass we invite people to get lost among the clutter. They miss essential details we need them to know. What came first gets overshadowed by what comes later. Or, they never see what comes later as they succumb to scroll-down-fatigue.

Keep it simple.

Say one thing at a time and do so clearly and compellingly.

Break that email apart into multiple emails. Send one a day if you have to. Give each one a title that make them easily searchable, too.

One Thing.

One at a Time.

With all the creativity and clarity you can muster to say it really well.

And, no. This is not a single solution panacea. There is a lot more to talk about, but let’s follow the rules and stop here. My next three posts will dive into three more rules of modern communication.

What piece of communication are you working on right now?

How focused is it?


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