Type at least 1 character to search



Communication Deconstructed

Communicators – Get them to get it!

People communicate and need communication, every day. Communicators remain confident that their messages are being received and understood. Many receivers however remain confused or indifferent. Whether or not you ‘get them to get it’ is a bit of a quandary.

Why the Quandary?

The quandary is the question: “Has communication taken place?” Definitions of communication are not very helpful. Merriam-webster defines it as, “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior”. Dictionary-Cambridge defines it as, “the process by which messages or information is sent from one place or person to another, or the message itself and the exchange of information and the expression of feeling that can result in understanding”. Your Dictionary defines it as, “the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, signals, writing, or behaviour.” There are many more definitions.

Given this ‘vagueness, when we talk about communication, are we referring to the process or the transfer of information or both? It is not blatantly clear to me. My sense though, is that communication invariably has only one objective, namely; for the recipient to get, by way of interpretation, the same message as the sender originally intended. Perhaps a more apt question may be,”When has an exchange of information taken place?”

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” (George Bernard Shaw)

This quote alludes to the notion that we are not sure when, and if, exchanges of information take place. If this is true it is very significant for companies and marketing executives. The quote also subtly poses questions about the difference between desired outcome and actual outcome.

As further context, here are some of my observations regarding communication:

  • Communication is important. Some argue that it is in fact replacing culture, as the primary source of knowledge. The success of an organisation begins and ends with communication. Employees can spend up to 80% of their time communicating.
  • Communication comprises of basic components and conforms to a process
    • A quantitative component which pertains to the broadcasting methods used and cadence, also referred to as the form and destination (distinguished by quantity)
    • A qualitative component which pertains to the intended message and the perceived message (distinguished by relevance and ease of interpretation)
  • The nature and extent of the components and process are not influenced by the complexity of the communiqué
  • There are numerous communication barriers:
    • Not understanding the language, jargon or idioms used 
    • Not understanding the context, history or nuances of the occasion, relationships, or culture which gave rise to the message 
    • Obfuscation 
    • Distraction 
    • Improper feedback and clarification
    • Not enough time to communicate with the target audience
    • Physical barriers
    • World or political views that impede fitting interpretation
    • Fear and anxiety associated with the perceived implications of the message
    • Medium, channel or sense preferences
  • Communication messaging can easily go wrong:
    • “Dog for sale: eats anything and is fond of children”
    • “Wanted: Unmarried girls to pick fresh fruit and produce at night” 
    • “You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.” (On a bag of Fritos)
    • “Bargain Basement Upstairs” (London department store)
    • “If you cannot read, this leaflet will tell you how to get lessons” (Message on a leaflet)
  • Using quantitative means to solve qualitative problems, or vice versa, is not sensible
Communication comprises basic components and conforms to a process

Here is my take.

Purpose – To reinforce existing ideas and/or behaviour OR Change existing ideas and/or behaviour

Value proposition – I find the description at Get2Grow quite useful

Workflow – Desired Outcome >>>Formulate >>> Transmit >>> Receive >>> Interpret >>> Actual Outcome.

Context – Information needs, interpretation abilities (and motives) and terminology use are different within, and between,  target audience segments

ComponentsCommunication Impact is a function of Frequency (How often you transmit) – Reach (where you transmit) – Content (What, and how, you say it) 

Outcomes – No matter what, there is always an outcome. Attempted or failed communication can not result in ‘no’ communication, there is always some form of interpretation albeit incorrect.

Consequently, assuming the target segmentation is correct, if any communication is unsuccessful (for a given measure of success), then by definition, either there is a quantitative problem (broadcasting methods used or cadence), or a qualitative problem (message relevance or lack of interpretation). 

If a communicator gets it wrong the first time, the second time they are faced with the additional challenge of overcoming the already established misinterpretation. Often there is no ‘second time’.

As a communicator, your challenge is then to ‘get them to get it’, the first time – every time. The receiver must then not only understand the message but act in such a way as to demonstrate that understanding.

How do we mitigate our communication risks?

The higher the anticipated likelihood of voluntary or involuntary misinterpretation, the greater the resource allocation to purpose and message formulation components should be, makes sense to me.  In other words, the lower the propensity to assimilate the more effort you must put into ‘content-engineering’. This might seem like stating the obvious and immediately poses questions like, “How would a communicator anticipate this likelihood?” It might seem obvious, but it is pretty helpful for communication strategists to be able to quickly determine where the bulk of their resources need to go. But how do they anticipate this so-called likelihood? 

Perhaps a good place to start is to group (a) what is foundational, (b) that which you can control directly and (c) that which you can only influence. What has worked for me is allocating one’s efforts on the things you can control directly in order to best influence the outcomes. Here is what I mean.

The purpose and value proposition are foundational. The workflow and components are in your direct control. The context and outcomes are only influenceable. In my view, transmission (channel selection and broadcasting/posting) are relatively straightforward. I have found the following resource allocation approach and sequence useful.

  1. Foundational (purpose and value proposition): 40%, thereby ensuring relevant and actionable messaging
  2. Direct control (workflow and components): 20%, thereby ensuring effective reach and frequency for your relevant and actionable messaging
  3. Spheres of Influence (context and outcomes): 
    1. Test what you can, particularly misinterpretation likelihood, on trusted ecosystem participants before broadcasting. 20%, thereby mitigating the risk of non or misinterpretation
    2. Test what you can, particularly resultant responses, on trusted ecosystem participants during broadcasting. 20%, thereby creating a basis from which to fine-tune foundational and ‘direct control’ components

The good news is that the very method which can be used to structure and formulate the content of the message can also be used to gauge this likelihood. You simply need to ask. Go and interact with the target audience and, in so doing, secure their participation and contribution regarding communication barriers, the formulation of the content, and the gauging of the assimilation likelihood. If you want them to understand the message, it must take the nature of their resistance, as well as their language into account. In so doing you are ‘deconstructing the myth’ as it were and intentionally investing in ‘getting them to get it’.

Happy Communicating!


Written by