By: Lisa Shaddick, MD of a global marketing comms agency of 18 people (www.weareindaba.com).
Clarity of communication is essential at the best of times, but today, with nearly the entire nation’s workforce decamped to home offices, it is more vital than ever. Teams who are used to face to face brainstorms, bouncing ideas off colleagues sitting next to them, and receiving verbal instructions and feedback, now have to navigate a new norm for communications channels. This shift towards more emails and video means clarity, consistency and specificity of language has never been more important.
Within a geographically remote team, leaders and managers can no longer simply pull a team into a conference room to brief them. The communications channels have changed; so too must our language. Content for comms is king: briefing and instructions that are clear, concise and specific ensure your audience knows exactly what you want. Loose phraseology, unspecified actions and vague directions, even poor grammar, can all have unintended consequences, particularly when people fill in the gaps for themselves and make incorrect assumptions. Is this action for me, or for you? Are we looking at the last quarter or just the previous month? Was that double negative intentional? What’s the deadline?
As the MD of an 18-strong communications consultancy that moved out of its Marylebone office in 2009 to become a virtual business, I am acutely aware of how vital clear and specific communication is. We have the added complexity that for 60% of the team, English is not their first language, and with English as our company’s lingua franca, we have to be even more rigorous with our internal communication to ensure first-class accuracy, accountability and productivity.
Some management styles encourage conversational communication, but this often verbose and vague approach can create a hot bed of confusion. Clear communication ensures accountability – people immediately understand what they need to do and by when – and is also a boost to productivity – there isn’t wasted time going back to clarify things, or worse, people spending time doing something that you didn’t ask for.
Some general tips:
- Choose your words carefully. Avoid any that may cause ambiguity, especially if communicating with non-English natives. And speaking English is no guarantee either. For example, “to table” in the United States means something is to put aside, it’s shelved. In the UK, it is the exact opposite; you table a topic you want to discuss.
- Avoid colloquialisms, especially idioms if you are talking to a multi-national audience as these are highly problematic, because they do not translate well, nor do they have the same intrinsic meaning in different cultures. For example, the die is cast makes sense to an English native, but for a French native, they would better understand “the carrots are cooked”.
- Be concise. A famous quote attributed to Oscar Wilde states he had written a long letter as he didn’t have time to write a short one. This is the ethos communicators should embrace. Avoid unnecessary words that confuse or contradict.
- Don’t over explain – you may lose your audience before you get to the crux of the matter.
- Don’t assume everyone knows your jargon, your pet abbreviations or, with an international audience, even well-known English abbreviations (like AOB on agendas, surprisingly enough).
- Use phraseology consistently. If you call something a project, keep calling it that. If you start to refer to it as an initiative people may think you are referring to something else.
- And follow basic clear communications best practice:
- If you are talking about time, cite the time zone – this is especially important if you are giving a deadline and your audience is in different time zones
- If you are talking about money, cite the currency – early in my career I fell foul to this one – luckily it was only GBP and EUR, but my financial director at the time was very unhappy.
- And at the end, recap the actions for everyone so you are all on the same page.