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How to communicate effectively in the workplace

Don't bury the lead. Grab your audience's attention early. Be graceful when others disagree. These and other tips will help you communicate more effectively with your peers.

Say what is relevant, clearly and immediately.

Communicating effectively is hard. Even for people who do it well, there are too many variables involved, too many moments where personal history makes something innocent and simple sound uninformed, sarcastic or evil. To communicate well, you've got to be determined and mindful.

Why should you care about communicating well? Why not communicate, and leave it at that?

The importance of effective communication

In the end, we all want to create a reality in which we create and enjoy the best experiences. We want to build the Sagradia Familia, that beautiful cathedral in Barcelona, Spain. We want to experience peace and comfort. We want to meet challenges head-on without being the challenge ourselves. We want to move forward, not sideways, not backward. We want better lives, not worse.

We all swim in the same stream. As John Donne wrote in 1624, "No man is an island." We are drops in an ocean, each an individual brick in a road. We work best when we work together, even within our small spheres of influence.

Positive experiences begin with, and depend upon, effective communication.

Express important points early

In journalism there's a central tenet: "Don't bury the lead." Always mention the most interesting or important point early in a conversation.

For example, imagine a team meeting where the lead says, "Well, nothing really big going on today, apart from us working out some minor issues around cardinalization, and the corporate office decided that everyone would immediately get vested stock in the company before it goes public."

Why on Earth wouldn't you lead with the vested stock? Cardinalization is great, and it makes text easy to read, but you just gave every employee a ton of money. That's what everyone would want to know first. Cardinalization is irrelevant by comparison.

That's "burying the lead," and it happens all the time in interactions. There's a particular satisfaction when you cleverly deliver an idea, and observe the recipients' shock-and-awe realization of what that information means.

Generally, however, that satisfaction is not worth playing games with your audience. Ultimately, you'll just train them to listen with half an ear.

Effective communication delivers relevant information early and immediately.

Grab and hold an audience's attention

The need to quickly present relevant information is especially critical with an internet audience. If the very first sentence doesn't capture their attention, they'll click away and leave your words behind. Even worse, the next time you have information to share, they may remember that negative experience and ignore you.

That's why the first sentence of this article is the most important sentence, because it summarizes everything: "Say what is relevant, clearly and immediately."

In practical terms, this means you must figure out what you need to say before you say anything. This may mean saying nothing at all. If you say the wrong thing or fill the air with less relevant content, this trains readers and listeners to think that you are less relevant.

In some environments with multiple cultures, that's a difficult task. You're expected to open up with greetings and meaningless interaction before jumping into a topic. People from other cultures, however, believe this is a waste of time.

Always be willing to extend some grace, although you don't have to accept every cultural expectation. For members of one culture, limit greetings to be short and sweet; meanwhile, people of another culture might tolerate such greetings that waste so much time.

Regardless of cultural social niceties and preferences, one should still seek to deliver information that makes the most difference for the given audiences, and focus on that first.

Don't "bury the lead." Construct your communications such that if your audience listens to only one sentence, they have what they need most. Communicating effectively may be less fun than stringing your listeners along to the melodious strains of your dulcet tones, but in the end, it's more respectful for everyone. They hear what they need and can respond appropriately and proportionately, and you look better because you're not wasting everyone's time.

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