Hidden messages

This week I had to explain to a client that if she chose only to publish details of what external stakeholders thought of her project and not the views of her staff, she would be sending out the message that her employees’ opinions weren’t important. Similarly, if she published only glowing reports from employees, when they knew the reality was not entirely positive, she would also be communicating something other than the words we printed – namely, that her communications were not to be trusted.

Thankfully,  she took my advice and we went with a balanced piece of mixed opinions, showing that all views are important and she was honest enough to show that it’s not all good news.

This got me thinking about the many levels of messaging that are involved in communication. For example, there’s the messages you think you’ve given; the straight-forward, literal meaning of the words you use; what your audience thinks you’ve said; what they think you meant… It’s no wonder communication so often goes wrong when there’s all this going on!

So, what do we do about it? I believe that the best thing to do is to plan your communications and consider your messaging very carefully. This should help to align what’s going on – it’s when there are mismatched messages that things can get messed up. 

The messages you think you’ve given – be really clear in your own mind about what you want to say and keep it simple to reduce the possibilities of creeping meaning .

The straight-forward, literal meaning of your words – not always so straight-forward, or indeed so literal, so again, keep it simple to avoid misunderstandings!

What your audience thinks you said – there is only so much control you can have over this, but taking time to understand your audience before you communicate will really help. By getting to grips with who they are, what they know and what’s important to them, you’ll stand a much better chance of aligning your messages with what they will hear.

What your audience thinks you meant – this is also a tricky one to master completely, but having trust in place will help. So make sure that the culture you are operating in is one of trust and honesty – do everything you can to foster this openness, then there will be less reason for them to believe you meant something other than what you said.

Getting the messaging right is a tricky business, but with a little planning and a lot of thought, it can be done.

Until next time


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