The Art of Articulation: Part One

By Shane Metcalf, CCO of 15Five

I am a lover of language. Lyrics, poetry or even a well-turned phrase all draw me in because of the prudent use of verbiage. Whether I am in the flow of conversing with our customers or advising employees on how to concisely respond to report questions, I seek to convey each message with intention. The fine art of articulation is all about carefully choosing each written or spoken word to precisely suit your audience.

There are few things more frustrating than ineffective communication. How often do you uncomfortably sift through paragraph after paragraph of incessant rambling? But when someone gets to the point they are effectively saying, “I appreciate the value of your time and I respect you as a client, colleague, team member, or even friend. I want us to both get what we need and get on with our business”.

Tailor your responses to organizational need

While the end game is to be an articulation artist, the process begins with science. In truly effective communication the method that serves me best is to consider internal, professional communication in one of two categories; FYI’s or CTA’s.

FYI’s  – These quick snippets of non-personal, non-confrontational information are meant to educate others on important developments. Follow up from team-members is not required, just send a quick email to the stakeholder explaining that there was an issue and how it was addressed. You would be surprised how often a quick internal conversation can save time and money.

The power of the FYI is in its brevity, since there are often many of these to share with management on any given day.  As an example: “We are getting positive results from our exit feedback survey test, and we will implement this as a standard for all trials”. I could have shared the specifics of the results or other non-essential data. Instead, I briefly explained a well-founded decision that I took responsibility for making.

CTA’s – The call to action is far more pressing and requires confirmation and action from the recipient(s) of the information, whether conveyed verbally or in writing. This is usually used when facing a dilemma, such as a breakdown in service. Approval or feedback is necessary to enlist a new service or vendor or to change policy.

For example, if we are using a sub-standard product, I need input from everyone who will be using it to make the most prudent decision: “Product X is not working as we had anticipated and we need to replace it ASAP! Product Y seems to be far superior but almost twice as expensive. Everyone needs to use the 3 day trial and then provide an assessment.”

This method will save time and money. Imagine that your entire team is in a one hour meeting. That hour can cost thousands of dollars, so make it worth it! Don’t focus on status updates and FYIs, save that for some form of electronic messaging. When valuable people are brought face to face, that is the time to focus on promises and decisions.

Let’s Get Naked!

Keep your shirt on. I am talking about vulnerability here, not nudity. Effective communication requires that one person has faith in the other. For us, this faith stems from our core values of being transparent, holding each other accountable, and granting trust.

This is an important distinction. We begin by granting trust and not requiring that it is earned. The practice goes beyond most people’s expectations and is the foundation of strong relationships with clients, partners, vendors and everyone else, whether internal or external:

Get to the point quickly and resist the temptation to look good. Finish by articulating what you need or your suggestion for next steps.

Cultivate confidence, tempered with humility. Brutal honesty is not for the faint of heart, but accessing our courage and not taking things personally can lead to extraordinary results.

Embrace the tensions that arise as part of the process to achieving clarity.

Transparency can be scary. Internally, we are afraid of judgments and externally we have a fear of looking bad and losing the business. Have no regrets about your honesty. The truth would have surfaced eventually and the relationship would have failed anyway. That said, telling the truth is not a license to be a jerk. A little bit of kindness and empathy goes a long way.

Ask yourself what is more important, closing the deal or creating a long-term relationship? Our customers use 15Five on a month-to-month basis. If trust is lost, the repercussions are expressed within 30 days.

We are constantly failing at perfect communication. Maybe there is no such thing. But we’re committed to optimizing it –that’s why we developed our product in the first place. Our team supports each other by increasing our ability to give meaningful feedback and helping each other to stay on track. Honest, forthright communication is what builds trust, long-term relationships, highly cohesive teams, and a culture of innovation.

About the Author

Shane Metcalf is Director of Customer Success at 15Five, where he aids our clients in exceeding their goals by streamlining communication and feedback through our software’s lightweight internal reporting process. 15Five allows the most important information to flow seamlessly throughout each organization, to surface issues before they become problems, to celebrate wins, discover great ideas and stay tuned in to the morale of the team. Shane formerly developed Metcalf Consulting, where he coached entrepreneurs to create new levels of high performance and productivity.

How does concise communication help your team to succeed? Leave us a comment below.

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