Three Keys to Communication

As business leaders, much of our time is spent in communicating:

  1. Conveying our business goals and direction
  2. Reinforcing our values
  3. Following up
  4. Teaching and training our team

Unfortunately, due to poor communication skills on our part, the distractions of relationships, environment and culture, and poor listening skills on the part of our audience, communication is (in general) only 30% effective. 

So, what can we do to raise the effectiveness level of our communication?

1.    Keep the Message Simple (KISS) – Less is More!

The average person can remember at most three to five items at a time.  Communicating any more than that will ensure incomplete and ineffective communication.  As such, the burden is on the speaker to put significant thought into the three to five points that he or she is trying to convey and to organize these thoughts in a succinct and well-organized way.  We need to be specific and use terms and language that the audience will understand (think eighth-grade language).  Finally, in communicating the three points, we should consider telling stories.  Stories resonate; they are more easily understood and remembered.  Even better; stories are re-told.

 2.     Practice the Rule of Ten

A new concept or idea may need to be communicated as many as ten times before being internalized by the audience.   As the leader, this requires that we promote daily, weekly, monthly communication.  This includes communicating the values and the goals of the business and the expectations for each individual.  In doing this, we should consistently communicate the progress towards the goals: how far the individual or team has come and the remaining gap between the current reality and the goal.  To effectively use this Rule of Ten, all but requires that we keep our message simple and limited to three to five points.

3.    Make Clarifying and Confirming a Habit

To ensure complete and mutual understanding requires that the other person to whom we are communicating summarizes the major points of the discussion.  In many cases, the listener will not have understood the points.   But, unless we follow up directly, they will generally not ask for clarification.  This is especially true in cultures where any sign of weakness can be considered a loss of face and where there may be language difficulties. Some suggestions on clarifying and communicating in daily business:

    1. Summarize.  In one-to-one communication, we should have the person to whom we are communicating summarize the major ideas of a discussion.  Simply asking: “Do you understand?” is not enough as the answer will inevitably come back: “Yes.”
    2. Document in Writing.  After summarizing, we should follow-up with a written summary of the communication.  For meetings, meeting notes should be written up with specific assignments and deadlines. 
    3. Follow Up. We need to plan and document the follow up… and then do it.


While simple, these three keys of communication are often forgotten in our haste to move on to the next issue.  But, unless done effectively, the communication will not effectively take place.  In all our communication, we should judge ourselves against the high standard that legendary football coach Vince Lombardi had for his communications:

Communication doesn’t take place until your people: hear or see what you say; understand it; believe it; believe you mean it; remember it; internalize it; and begin to use it themselves.



About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Communication, Team / People and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Three Keys to Communication

  1. Great post, I especially like Keep the Message Simple (KISS) – Less is More!

  2. Ruth Hawley says:

    Great insights into the basics of communication. The “keep it simple” message goes double when communicating through the mass media.

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