Balance Your Over and Under Communication

Have you ever entertained the idea of under-communicating something? As leaders we know that communication is a key leadership competency. Yet, sometimes we struggle with finding the right balance in our communication. Another way of thinking about it might be to call what we need to accomplish as being “focused” or “targeted” communication. 

Recently, I stepped into a project that was already in motion. Twelve workshops scheduled, three had already been completed and it was my job to start facilitating the next nine. Because everything was already in motion, I didn’t really have time to learn much about my audience. My first workshop was a bust. Maybe because I wasn’t as familiar with the content as I needed to be. Maybe because I didn’t really understand my audience. 

Whatever the reason, it didn’t take long after that first workshop for me to figure out that I needed to focus my communication better and target it toward what my audience needed. I was overcommunicating some things to compensate for what I didn’t know. And I was under communicating other things because I was unclear what my audience really needed.

Whether preparing for a workshop, your next meeting, a conversation with key team members, your board, or even your own business community members, thinking through what you want to communicate is critical.

Our communication is meant to serve our audience. To find the right balance between under and over communicating, we need to think in terms of what our audience needs.

Bottom line what you mean. 

For visionary leaders, sharing grandiose ideas is intended to inspire. Without concrete steps that help people see where they fit in the big dreams, that dream can fall flat and nothing changes. Getting others to see the dream means being clear with some details on what will change, what will stay the same and what tangible outcomes are possible. Getting lost in all the details can be equally as confusing. Especially if the next steps seem overwhelming in quantity or we lack the ability to achieve them. Pick the details that matter most, link them to the outcomes you are going for and save the other details for later. Take the extra time to think through and bottom line what you mean. Be specific but brief. Practice on others in advance and ask for feedback. These strategies can help find the balance between over or under communicating. 

Say the same thing in a different way. 

Multiple communication methods coupled with frequency sends the message that what is being shared is important. You have heard there are three things that make leading change successful: communicate, communicate, communicate. True, but only if you are communicating the right stuff at the right time and in the right sequence. Repetition is important — people forget, fall into old ways of doing things. Your content is critical — make sure you are saying the same thing so that you don’t confuse your audience or inadvertently give mixed messages. Frequent communication + consistent message delivered in a variety of ways creates balance in the over and under communication.

If you want to get focused AND you want to target your communication to what your audience needs, you will need to set aside some time to prepare.

Next Steps

  1. Pick an upcoming presentation or communication.
  2. What is your main point? It can be hard to pick just ONE. Often at the end of a coaching session, I will ask clients for their key take away. That is a powerful moment. As a facilitator and communicator, you need to ask yourself what you want your audience to take away from your communication, then design your message around that key point.
  3. How can you circle around that main point? My big win in the workshops I re-designed was that with each slide, with each activity, with each message, I linked it back to one key thing I was asking the audience to do. That is what turned a “bust” into a meaningful and productive communication experience for us all.
  4. Think about what success would look like and consider how you would know that you have achieved it.

Preparing what you want to communicate? Check out the last two blogs. Know Your Audience: Not Everyone Hears the Same and Presentations: What to Cut and What to Say

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Annie Perdue Olson

Annie is founder of Leading Better Together, guiding leaders through the relationship and people challenges that sidetrack ministry. With 20+ years of experience in nonprofit management and pastoral ministry she equips people and teams to work better together. She holds a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Change Leadership from St. Thomas University and received her coaching certification from the Center for Coaching Excellence.

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