Know Your Audience

In any communication medium, the #1 rule is: Know your audience! If you know little or nothing about the people who will be receiving your message, you are, in all likelihood, wasting your time by trying to deliver it. What is known as the shotgun approach does not work. At best, it means your unfocused or misdirected message might reach a few of the people you wanted to reach; at worst, it makes you look like a poor communicator.

With so many means of communication available today, it’s difficult to develop a high degree of skill and effectiveness in all of them. However, your ongoing career success might well depend on achieving at least reasonable competency in each of them. By knowing your primary audience, you might also be able to determine which of the available communications tools you should concentrate on becoming an expert in using.

executive_networking_in_email_and_written_communicationsFor example: While not all members of the younger generation communicate largely via Twitter and not all members of more “mature” or senior generations avoid it like the plague, statistics suggest that this view of the situation has a certain amount of validity. On the other hand, quite a few people are blogging these days—personally, professionally or both. If you are inspired as an individual or are encouraged by your company to participate in such activities, you need to learn the ropes before you risk falling flat on your face by tweeting or posting prematurely.

Know Your Purpose

A second important consideration is: Know your purpose! In other words, what’s the reason you are trying to communicate something to the designated audience? What do you want or need to achieve? As an executive, you could have one or more purposes for a particular communication piece—for example, to inform, advise, motivate, persuade or instruct.

The purpose(s) could depend heavily on the target audience. For instance, you might aim to inform, advise or persuade a board of directors regarding a plan you believe will have a significant effect on the company’s success. Alternatively, you could see a need to motivate your staff to pursue a goal with energy and enthusiasm while adhering to good business practices. You might also instruct staff members to take a certain action but would probably not adopt that same mandatory approach with the board!

Personal Benefit versus Company Benefit

If the purpose of your communication is to benefit your career, you will want to choose both your medium and your target audience carefully. As numerous individuals have already discovered, indiscriminate messages that become visible to the wrong parties can boomerang disastrously. An example might be updating your LinkedIn profile in a way that suggests you are actively seeking a new position. If you haven’t turned off your activity notification feature, your current employer could easily see that.

The Pitfalls of Cross-Cultural Communication

In the increasingly global society we live and work in, it’s hard to avoid the necessity of communicating with individuals and organizations who don’t share a common language and cultural heritage with you. You might, for instance, know that certain cultures frown on exchanging handshakes upon meeting someone, but do you also know that the wrong word choices can significantly change (i.e., impair) your communication efforts? You might think you are making your meaning clear, but your audience could be taking away something that was far from what you intended.

An important caveat in cross-cultural communication involves recipients who apparently do speak, read and write English, although it isn’t their native language. Americans who presumably learned English from birth don’t always use it well or understand it properly. Imagine the pitfalls that can lie in wait for the non-native speakers, even those who, in some cases, have a better grasp of the language than those who’ve grown up with it. You need to take proper care to use clear, commonly accepted terms rather than more colloquial wording (such as slang, jargon and the like) and avoid words or phrases that could easily be considered ambiguous.

Know When You Need Help—and Ask for It!

If you have any doubts about your written communication abilities—or maybe even if you don’t—it can be an excellent idea to have your most important pieces reviewed by someone whose skills you respect and whom you can rely on to give you an unbiased opinion. Just because you’re a successful executive and very good at what you do for a living, don’t let a false sense of pride keep you from asking for help when it could make a big difference in the outcome.


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