This is more than just ‘work email’
At ZoCo Design we specialize in Visual Communication and that’s what people notice. We create intuitive layouts, meaningful and effective brands, expertly executed color palettes, comprehensive strategies or guidelines, and more– and we do so with flair and personality. We’re designers, of course; there’s a lot of creative and detailed thought that goes into our work. That translates into everything we do, not least among them communication.
So much of what we do hinges on being effective communicators, so we pay careful attention to the opportunities we notice to improve. As a team we constantly share what is working and not working in a constructive manner to improve for the next time. Every new communication is a chance to reset the bar. As my men’s chorus likes to say, “You’re only as good as your next performance”. (Side note, there’s a pretty good one coming up if you live near Columbus)
Of course there are the basics of written communication grounded in grammatical correctness, logical flow, and detailed clarity. Without these in place higher level communication has unnecessary obstacles. If spelling and grammar aren’t your strong suits, find yourself a supporting tool or process. How do you get better? Mainly by incessant practice and craving unfiltered feedback. Knowing that feedback is always a gift makes improvement a much more engaging process. With anything you do, master the basics– especially so in communication.
“What does effective communication actually look like?”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, effective communication is simple and fluid. When I start any form of professional communication I keep all of these things in mind.
- Set your intention – Meetings that follow agendas get things done efficiently. Similar logic can be applied to communications as well. Be intentional– does everyone present actually need to be there? What’s the goal? Constantly recommit to your intention– your participants will appreciate it.
- Know your audience – Is their personality formal or informal? Dominant or Reserved? What are their needs, and what are they looking for that you can support with?
- Know yourself – What is your default come-from, and how does it match your audience? You may get to shift to meet your audience where they are to connect.
Listen (or read) effectively – Are you a good listener or are you always thinking ahead to your response? There are dozens of tools out there to improve your listening. Realize that it’s different for everyone. No two communications should be precisely the same, even when geared towards a similar audience. If you are committed to effective communication my favorite resource on this is Chris Lee’s podcast on the topic.
Some philosophy behind communication.
Remember that none of this constitutes a ‘to do list’. Each of these are higher principles that allow you to be fluid in what you choose to communicate. I could search out some crazy statistic, but I’ll go for the credibility approach to back this up.
As I was researching for this blog I recalled something I studied in an advanced writing course at The Ohio State University: Aristotle’s Rhetorical Concepts. These concepts deal most directly with the art of persuasion. In my experience client communication is constantly within this arena for the sole reason of creating relationship. Since about 350 BC or so, humanity has recognized Ethos (perception or credibility), Pathos (emotional connection), and Logos (logic) as essential to effective communication. When checking my facts I came across a resource that cites two more of Aristotle’s Rhetorical concepts. This resource through Purdue University outlined two more concepts for me: Telos (purpose) and Kairos (setting). Give it a read, it’s fascinating!
Why is that relevant to business communication? Everything you create with a client is based on relationship, trust, facts, creating value, and doing so in the best (or preferred) mode of communication for the recipient. In the words of a childhood mentor of mine, “Knowing is half the battle”, and having this present in our thoughts when we intentionally communicate changes the call or email from a static business transaction to a warm relationship. We’re humans, we like that stuff. No one cares what you know until they know how much you care; this is your opportunity to show up as a partner who is committed to them.
What does that perfect message look like? Well, rarely is it actual perfection, so let that go. If you are crafting the “perfect” communiqué, that message may never make it to the recipient on time. Hold the ideal as your target, but as long as you cover a quick checklist you’re fine. That might look differently for you depending on your agency and audience. For me it looks like some version of:
- Respond within any predetermined timeframes, or as soon as possible.
- Establish and cultivate authentic relationship.
- Loop in any necessary parties.
- Identify and address the primary purpose for the communication.
- Attach any links or files that you reference or previously promised.
- Thoroughly and concisely address any outstanding needs or requests from the client.
- Communicate any next steps, including timelines or deliverables.
- Be a human and go the extra mile. This isn’t a line item, it’s a chance to make a difference in their day.
Or “RELIATCB” for short. Sorry, I’m great at writing and communication, not clever acronyms. I am on the lookout for a good Blog on that, any takers?