Five steps for effective communication

Communication can be a challenge for leaders at any level, but it doesn’t have to be. Follow this simple five-step process for clear messaging success.

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Communication is an essential skill for leaders. It’s a key ingredient to building trust, fostering teamwork and clarifying direction. 

Unfortunately, many leaders don’t do it well. Why not? Part of the challenge is that managers communicate so often (and so informally) they forget to focus on the needs of the audience and employ the basic principles that foster overall effectiveness in leadership communication. 

The good news is with a little effort and a smidgen of structure, leaders can significantly ‘punch up’ their messaging in ways that will improve overall receptivity and understanding. To do that, follow these five simple (and sequential) steps:

Step 1: Clarify

The first, and arguably most important, element of effective communication is clarifying why you’re sending the message you're planning in the first place. 

Are you trying to persuade a group of employees to work the weekend? Convince senior leaders to adopt your plan? Explain the reasoning behind a major policy change?

The specific reason isn’t as important as just having one (although a good one is advisable). Without a clear purpose, developing an effective message will be difficult.


Step 2: Consider

After you’ve taken the time to clarify the reason for your message, you’ll want to understand what your audience’s state of mind is as well as what their needs are. 

This step is often overlooked by message-givers to their detriment. Without a firm grasp on the audience’s wants and needs, you risk communicating something that either doesn’t resonate or worse, is interpreted unfavorably — neither outcome will advance your purpose, in fact, they could undermine it. 

Be sure to take steps to understand what’s going on inside the minds of your audience before you craft your message.


Step 3: Create

With both purpose and audience understood, you’ll want to move to message creation.

Regardless of whether your message is given verbally or in writing, be sure to hit on three key elements that have formed the basis of effective communication since antiquity: 

  1. Ethos: Your character and credibility as the message-giver
  2. Pathos: Your empathy for your audience (see step 2)
  3. Logos: The logic or fact-based aspect of your argument. 

Think of these three elements as legs of a stool — with them, your message will be sturdy; without them, you’ll topple over.


Step 4: Choose

Before you reach for the keyboard, ask yourself if the channel you’ve chosen to send your message will be the most effective.

Chances are there’s a more efficacious channel (or channels) through which to send your message. Some mediums, like email or blog posts, are easy to create and can reach a wide range of recipients, but don’t provide much context. These are known as lean channels. Others, like face-to-face meetings or phone calls, reach fewer people but do so with greater impact. These are referred to as rich channels. Effective communication often requires a mix of both. Regardless of which ones you choose, do so with the forethought of maximizing your impact.


Step 5: Convey

Unsurprisingly, the final step (and remember, it took a while to get here!) is conveying the meaning behind your message. With the preceding four steps done well, the likelihood of generating a favorable outcome increases significantly. Just be sure to avoid making the last step — Convey — be the first one in your communication process. Otherwise, it may be back to the drawing board, and as highlighted at the start, to Step 1.

Communication can be a challenge for leaders at any level, but it doesn’t have to be. The five steps discussed provide an easy to follow recipe for clear messaging success. Keep them in mind (and in front of you) when you’re getting ready to send your most important missives. Your audience will be glad you did.

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