The Communication Triangle is made up of the three integral components; The Right Information, given to the Right People, at the Right Time. Take away any one of the three and the communication suffers, resulting in a miscommunication or worse. This series examines each side of the triangle in turn.
Communication is the imparting or exchanging of information or news. This can be between two people or two thousand. Or even just one, as in self-communication.
For the communication to be effective the information that is being exchanged must be clear and correct. You must consider the intended recipient and tailor the message to them.
An example; much of my work consists of writing technical reports based off surveys I perform on ships. These are filled with terms and observations that would be clear to somebody who has worked at sea, but are foreign to many people in the office who will ultimately be using that report to help them make decisions.
So at the beginning of the report we write an Executive Summary. This is a synopsis of all the findings, written plainly so that it can be easily read without having industry specific knowledge.
Sending the right information goes wrong in a few different ways. It can be an error at the transmitting end, where the facts themselves are incorrect, or it can be an error at the receiving end, where the information sent is correct but it is interpreted wrongly. Both of these have the same result; the receiver believes this information to be true and acts on it accordingly.
The Wrong Information
This is how rumors start. People repeat things without first verifying the accuracy of what they are talking about.
On January 13th, 2016, the US Powerball lottery grew to astronomical heights, with the pot being valued at $1,586,400,000. 1 Around the same time a message began floating around Facebook stating that if the (then) $1.3 billion dollars was divided between the 300 million inhabitants of the US, everyone would receive $4.3 million dollars and poverty would be abolished. This gained a massive following and was shared and hash-tagged for weeks. And it was a great idea, except….
The wrong information was sent in the beginning and people acted on it – without first checking the facts.
Send the Right Information
How do we ensure that the information we send is right? We think like journalists.
Check your facts!
Double check what you are saying before you say it. Proofread that document before you hit send. And never let anyone else put words in your mouth. Parroting somebody else’s thoughts shows a lack of conviction and understanding of the subject.
Get informed so that when you offer an opinion, that opinion is your own. If you don’t know what your stance is on a subject, the best way to clarify your thoughts is to write about it.
Writing clarifies your thinking and allows you to properly frame your ideas and arguments. When you start putting words to paper on a subject it will very quickly become apparent what you don’t know.
The other side of the coin is errors in receiving information. There are a number of factors that cause this and is why it is so important to tailor your message to your intended audience.
How the information is being transmitted will often introduce errors as a result of the medium. That hand written note may look good on paper, but falls flat when read out loud.
Some common areas that introduce confusion:
- Language barriers
- Lack of rapport
- Poor writing skills
- Use of jargon
- Poorly organized documents
- Insufficient technical or background knowledge
- Level of reading ability
While there are many different mediums that can be used to transmit your message, at the root they can all be boiled down to two: Reading/Writing and Speaking. How do we ensure that the Right Information is being sent in these mediums?
The Written Word
Transmitting information using the written word has the distinct advantage of being able to revise your work before sending. This goes for books, reports, emails, and text messages. It even applies for writing that will eventually be spoken, such as a speech, or poetry.
When ensuring that the Right Information is being sent, time is your ally. Use it! It doesn’t need to take a long time, but a final check of your message before sending will avoid countless problems down the road. These two techniques will get you started:
- Good writing = revision. Follow the ABC’s of revision and tidy things up. Run a spellcheck. Confirm your facts. Grammar, punctuation. Writing 101.
- Read it out loud. It will quickly become apparent if your message works, or if it sounds weird. This also helps you to write with your own ‘voice’.
Be sure of what you are sending before you send it and your message will be well received on the other end.
When reading the message there are a few techniques that can help ensure that you capture all the information. First, don’t be afraid to ask! If something is unclear then ask about it.
When the goal of reading is to pull information from a text it may help to utilize a system such as SQ3R – Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review. Other great methods exist but the key takeaway is in order to learn effectively when reading you must review and re-frame the information in your own words.
When trying to pass the Right Information verbally there are some hangup points that can cause miscommunication. Language barriers, cultural differences, and industry jargon fall under this point. It is important to ensure that you build common ground with the people you are communicating with so that everyone is on the same page. Do this before you deliver your message and it will have a better chance of being understood.
Again, if you don’t understand something – ask! Only by not asking will you end up looking like a fool if something goes wrong.
You need to consider the recipient of your message; how they work, what holds their attention. The more you know about them, the better you can tailor your message for the greatest impact.
A lack of information falls into this category as well, primarily dealing with assumptions. When we assume some bit of information; she is mad at me, the boss doesn’t like my work; we are receiving information where none was sent. Chances are that you’ve got it wrong.
The Right Information
By taking the time to make sure the information that you have sent or received is correct, you will be have capture what is essential in good decision making. Even small errors compound quickly, like in the telephone game where you start with one phrase and it morphs to something completely different as it is passed down the line.
Double check your facts, revise your your work prior to sending, and ask when you are unsure. When you have the Right Information you can make the best decisions possible. Any less and it all falls down.