The two big communication questions

Image from
May 27 2019 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

When it comes to communicating with a remote team or customers, we often get hung up on the technology we’re using. Sometimes the first question we ask is “how can I do this using this particular tool?” But that’s the wrong question. In fact, that should be no more than the third question you ask.

We have to remember that communication is more than merely data transfer. It’s actually a complicated, two-way (at least) process with lots of moving parts. To be a great communicator you have to start with two very important questions that inform any decision you make about structuring or sending your message.

The first question is “why am I communicating?” The second is “What do I want the outcome to be?” If you aren’t clear on those two things, the tools you use and the brilliance of your persuasive discourse won’t mean a darned thing.

We always start with first principles: why am I communicating with this person or audience? There can be a number of reasons, but they usually include:

  • Get the information we need to take action
  • Pass on important information to others
  • Get buy-in from others
  • Persuade them to do something
  • Learn what others are thinking

That’s the first thing we need to be clear on. Conducting a webinar with no chance of real honest input may actually be exactly the WRONG way to handle a problem, no matter how brilliantly it is done.

The second question of course, is what do I want to have happen as a result of the communication? This is a critical step before transmitting any message. After all, you need to carefully consider not only the data included in the communication, but the short and long-term results:

  • What action do I want them to take?
  • Do I want buy-in, or simply compliance?
  • What are the implications to my relationship with the other party (ies)?
  • Am I giving them enough information or too darned much?

Think about it. You can give someone very explicit instructions in an email about HOW to do something. But if they’re not entirely sure WHY they should do it at all, you may fail no matter how precise your direction.

When you know what you’re trying to do, and what you want the outcome to be, you can make wiser decisions about the way you craft a communication and the tools you use. We can also get into Richness vs. Scope, which is another discussion for another day, but for now ask yourself those two key questions. When you can answer them clearly, you’ll be surprised at the decisions you make, and how much better the results are.

more articles

About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.