What we say to each other and how we say it shapes just about everything. Conversations, books, websites, and beyond have profoundly shaped my view of the world – and sometimes also left me feeling baffled.
When I founded Big Duck in 1994, back at the dawn of the Internet, I saw an opportunity for nonprofit organizations to communicate in clearer, better, and more intentional ways. That powered the focus of my work for decades.
In 2021, I left Big Duck to start a new professional chapter coaching nonprofit executives and other leaders. I was curious to see which of my skills and ideas would be transferable to my new gig, and which might feel irrelevant or discordant when coaching individuals.
Here are three insights I’ve had about communications on an individual and interpersonal level (for example, between a manager and their direct report), and what they have in common with communications that reflect an entire organization.
Clear communication is intentional.
So many of us just go with the flow–saying and writing whatever comes up in the moment. Sometimes, you luck out or just miss a few things you wanted to get across. Other times, you confuse, offend, and alienate. Communications at all levels are better when you prepare, consider all angles, and stay focused on what you really want to express.
Clear communication factors in the audience’s perspective.
Who are you talking with? Writing for? Where are they coming from? What is the journey they need to go on with you so they understand what you’re trying to communicate? This can be easier to navigate between individuals if they have a relationship. For organizations, it can be harder to understand who the audience is and tailor messages to be appropriately specific without alienating them. Communications are better when you can pause your own agenda and think about the other person’s perspective and motivations.
Clear communication values progress over perfection.
Real relationships require a willingness to sometimes say hard things, even when that can be challenging. That’s true at work, at home, and beyond. Organizations, particularly those that do advocacy work, must also challenge the status quo to spark meaningful change. Communications at all levels are better when you are candid and move things forward, even when it’s not perfect.
How and what we communicate matters. I was lucky to work with nonprofits to help them sharpen their communication skills over nearly three decades at Big Duck. And in the last few years, all sorts of things have impacted how we communicate, and put added pressure on the importance of being clear. As you update your brand, execute your campaign, or manage your team, strive for progress – not perfection.