The Power of Seeing the Other Side
When you have information and ideas to share, it can feel completely natural to start with what you want to say. But it almost always makes more sense to start with what the intended audience wants or needs to hear. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes first actually empowers you to deliver a more compelling, convincing and on-target message.
We all know people we would describe as “love to hear themselves talk.” As their audience, it can be frustrating to listen to facts you already know, input that doesn’t apply or messaging that does not take into account the realities you face.
Whether pitching a potential investor, onboarding a new team member or presenting to decision makers, considering the perspective of your audience first enables you to tune in to what is most important to them and, ultimately, improve the effectiveness of your communication and quality of your relationship.
Senders need receivers
In communication theory, we talk about senders and receivers. The sender has an idea to convey and the receiver will decode or translate that message and decide what it means to them.
Whether communicating with one person or a room of 1,000, there are key questions you can ask yourself to better consider the perspective of the receiver. What prior knowledge and experience do they bring to the interaction? What do they most want or need to know? What beliefs and attitudes will they use to filter your communication? What communication format, such as a phone call, email or in-person one-on-one or group communication, will best meet their needs?
A senior leader or investor may need a one-minute, high-level synopsis of progress made to date on a critical project. A team member working on the project will need far more detail and expect you to clarify deliverables and deadlines.
Try on their shoes
Understanding someone else’s perspective requires empathy and not getting stuck in thinking everyone sees things the same way you do. The ability to hold multiple, even opposing, ideas in mind at the same time is essential to effective communication. So is realizing that everyone’s perspective is unique; that we all see the world through a biased lens; our perspective can change based on the situation or our role within it; and that our perspective determines how we interpret any given message.
When you look at messaging from the perspective of your audience and communicate in clear, concise and concrete terms, you expand the odds of being understood and the likelihood of finding mutually beneficial solutions.
When the news isn’t good
Seeing someone else’s side is especially important in tense situations or when you have difficult information to share. Perhaps you have to tell a team member their work missed the mark, let a client know you cannot meet their demand, or announce budget cuts.
Although it won’t be easy, you can earn the respect of others in the process when you anticipate questions and concerns the receiver is likely to have, are well-prepared with facts, are completely candid, and then listen to feedback with genuine curiosity and without interruption.
Don’t bury the lead
You can also increase the likelihood your message will be accurately received by being clear and direct at the start and adding supporting detail further down. Writing and speaking this way can feel counter-intuitive at first. You may more naturally lead up slowly to your main subject rather than getting right to it.
But business communication demands that key information is conveyed early on; no one wants a surprising plot twist or big reveal we might relish in reading a novel. Consider following the acronym BLOT (Bottom Line on Top). Don’t make readers or listeners wade through distracting explanations before you share the headline of the story. Answer as many of the 5Ws (who, what, when, where, why and how) as soon as possible and then fill in with the details.
This approach is true even in email. McKinsey & Company finds that a third of the work day is spent checking and replying to emails so opportunities to make them more recipient-focused are plentiful. First, think about whether email is the right vehicle. Topics that require significant explanation are better handled live and, of course, confidential and sensitive information does not belong in email. When you do use email, a specific subject line targeted to the reader’s needs will focus the conversation. Then, employ the tested communication principles of being concise, clear and specific.
No matter how important the message you want to convey, when you start by considering how to deliver it in a way that addresses the needs and concerns of your audience, you are more likely to find receptive listeners and to build clearer understanding.