Often as an internal communicator in the charity and higher education sectors I find myself needing to communicate with diverse groups of people. From fundraisers to policy makers, from researchers to HR managers, from practice staff to tutors. And many more besides!

Ask the right questions

This is one of the parts of my job that I love best: getting to know and understand different groups of people. Sometimes the urgency of a project means I have to get to know a group very quickly, for other projects I have more time to gain a deeper understanding. Whatever the time available, the key is to ask questions and really listen to the answers.

This is a great tip for anyone who wants to communicate effectively: plan your questions well and really listen to what people tell you. That way you will get to understand what is important in the world of your audience e.g. their students’ progress. From that you can work out why they might react the way they do, for example not responding to your staff survey because they have students’ exams to mark. And then you can work out what to do about it e.g. run your survey at a different time or make it clear from the start that it will only take 5 minutes of their time.

Listening closely to the answers

When you are really listening to someone because you genuinely want to understand their point of view, not give them yours, you will find it easier to:

  • Avoid being judgmental and jumping to conclusions about them and what they mean.
  • Reflect on what they’ve said and check you understand what they mean.
  • Use an appropriate tone of voice to ask questions to check you really do understand.

If you have a better understanding of other people’s fears, interests and motivations, you have a better chance of communicating your messages in such a way that allays their concerns and matches up with what interests them. You may also find you need to reconsider your messages altogether.

Engaging your audience

I believe that if people don’t feel listened to there is a high chance that they will quickly become disengaged. As we are now seeing on a country-wide scale, following the EU referendum and the strong sense of “you’re not listening to me” at every turn, this has serious, significant and long-term consequences. If you are looking to avoid a situation like this in your organisation – or any group or community you are part of – I would strongly recommend that you start genuinely listening to others with a view to understanding them. And I would recommend that you do it now.

An effective piece of communication depends completely on your ability to achieve your intended purpose with your intended audience. And listening to what they have to say is a big step along the way.

If you enjoyed this you might also enjoy this: The Importance of Manager / Team Trust