Every form of communication involves two people: The individual communicating the message and the individual receiving and interpreting that message. Whether speaking to a team leader in your office or the entire company at a town hall event, you are speaking directly to each individual. Acknowledging this simple truth helps you stay present so you can connect with the other person and be aware of their experience of the interaction.
When you connect with the other person in the interaction, you metaphorically turn towards them. The act of turning toward those with whom you are communicating is a key element of The Relationship Protocol communication model. When you are turned towards someone during an interaction, you are interested in what they are saying and listen to understand their perspective. You are not distracted or defensive. You demonstrate that you are interested in the other person and what they are saying by validating them and trying to genuinely understand their experience. Turning towards the other person opens the door for them to connect with you because they feel heard and understood.
But how can you connect with someone through the written word?
The challenge of connecting to others through written communication.
Written communication is a broad category. It includes emails, Slack messages, business proposals, shareholder reports, internal communications, and social media posts. If it's written, it's written communication, and it drives the day-to-day activities of most businesses.
How do you turn towards the person you are communicating with and connect with them when visual cues, body language, and nuances of speech such as tone, volume, and energy level are missing? How do you connect with your readers when you only have your words to create the connection?
To better understand how to forge a real connection with readers, I spoke with Gemma Bonham-Carter, a digital marketer and fellow Inc.com contributor. Like me, she believes that business can be a catalyst for change. We talked about how important it is to think of the person who will receive your written communication and to imagine what they might be doing when they read it and how the message might impact them. I noted that you could build a connection by acknowledging the difficulty of the topic and the limitations of not meeting face to face and indicating that you are open to continuing the conversation should they have any questions or concerns. Bonham-Carter then shared her advice.
To connect with your readers, write to individuals, not the faceless masses.
"If you want your emails or other written communication to land correctly with others," said Bonham-Carter, "you want the receiver to feel seen and heard." It is possible to convey an authentic message when writing to your customers, employees, or shareholders -- but only if you see them as individuals and not a faceless mass.
Bonham-Carter advises writing specifically to four or five real people receiving the communication. She suggests putting the names of each person on a post-it note on your computer and thinking about the best way to communicate with them, so you get your point across while letting them know you understand their perspective. Think about what that small group of people needs to hear. "If the message is generic, it won't connect with the recipients unless you personalize the information in some way, such as thinking of those few people and writing in a way that will resonate with them."
When we try to put ourselves in the other person's shoes, we validate their experience and connect with them on a deeper level. In return, they lean into the conversation because they feel heard and valued. When we show our humanity, people listen.
For example, I worked with the CEO of a large franchise organization who realized his team was not engaged at work. He invited his staff to a meeting where he apologized for how he had been showing up at the company. He acknowledged that while he repeatedly asked for their loyalty and commitment, he failed to demonstrate his commitment and loyalty to them. He never offered feedback or encouragement and rarely acknowledged their efforts. He realized that his lack of connection with his team probably made them feel unappreciated and unheard, and it certainly affected their level of commitment to him, the company, and one another. He promised to do better going forward.
Since most employees were not in attendance at the meeting, the CEO also sent an email to everyone expressing the same message. Most of the team was surprised by the CEO's authenticity and vulnerability, but the message struck a chord and was greatly appreciated because admitting his mistake made him human. His team understood that he cared and agreed to do better too.
Effective communication is personal. It delivers your message and demonstrates that you understand and appreciate the other person's perspective and experience. This is true whether you're communicating with one person or a team of thousands. Regardless of the size of your company, it's important to stay connected to everyone with whom you communicate. Keep your messaging simple and personal wherever possible.