The Communication Triangle is made up of the three integral components of every communication; 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.
Involving the Right People is crucial in any communication.
Too often it is the people who most need that information that fail to get it. The ones who will use it are the last to know. Ensuring that the right people are involved is important for many reasons:
Critical Decision Making – Good decisions can only be made when you have all the facts. By failing to keep the right people in the loop it increases the chances of a poor outcome. It’s important to remember that nobody comes to work to do a bad job. But they may make bad decisions if not supported through the process by having access to the Right Information.
Efficiency – From a timeliness perspective it just makes good sense to involve the Right People from the outset. In business, time is money. If you can avoid circling back to explain something that has always been covered you’ll save both. It also helps to fully close the loop on items. Once a milestone or checkpoint has been reached and closed out your attention shouldn’t be pulled back to that item by somebody who wasn’t informed that it is finished.
Professionalism – If you are being paid to do a job then part of your responsibility is to keep everyone informed. This shows that you respect the people you are working with and helps them to avoid looking foolish when they are not in the know. This in turn will avoid feelings of mistrust or ill-will down the road.
These points don’t just apply to business, they apply to any communication involving two or more people. Organizing a family reunion? Don’t forget to invite Uncle Bob!
Identifying the Right People
So how do you make sure that you have identified all of the players?
In any organization there will be people on two ends of a spectrum that spans between those on the front lines to those in the back office. I like to refer to these as the sharp end and the blunt end.
The sharp end is the area of activity where problems are most likely to be found, so identifying the people working at the sharp end should be the first step. They will have the most immediate need for info and support if they are to perform effectively.
Identifying the people at the blunt end who need to know is a little more difficult, as there are typically far more of them. While the company CEO has a vested interest in the outcome of your project, they probably don’t require updates on the finer details. They have people to manage that.
A good rule of thumb is to include those people who will have something to contribute immediately, or who will require the information to make a decision in the near future.
You can identify these people in a number of ways:
- Reading through the email chain and seeing who is involved.
- Checking the companies organizational chart.
- Seeing who is in attendance during meetings and taking notes.
- Ask! Speak to the gatekeepers or project managers and ask who needs to be involved.
The one thing not to do is Reply All to emails with a large number of people on it. This is typically a blunt end habit and shows a lack of focus and understanding of the situation. It includes far too many people who have a secondary attachment at best to the information sent, and adds another layer of unneeded stress to those on the sharp end.
An important aspect of choosing the right people is knowing who not to choose as well.
Too Close to the Problem
A lack of communication from some party is a common error made when they are “too close to the problem”. When something is worked on day in and day out it pervades your life. After a while you get so close to it that it begins to feel like common knowledge; that everybody knows about it. Information is left out because it’s assumed that everyone already knows.
The point at which this occurs is most often when bringing a new person or team onto the project. The induction process gets abbreviated, especially if it has been done a few times before. Autopilot is switched on and the induction is seen as something to get out of the way, rather than a process where the persons needs for info are considered.
A good example of this is when joining a new ship, even as a passenger, there is a requirement to have a safety induction. This tells the person vital information about the safety systems on the vessel; location of the life rafts, where to muster, who to contact in an emergency. The person conducting this briefing has typically done it countless times and breezes through it.
But the person receiving that briefing may have never sailed on this ship. They have joined for the first time; everything is unfamiliar. Or maybe they have never been on any ship before. There is a mismatch between the info being provided and being received.
The most effective tool for fixing this is the most simple; ask the question. Speak to the person and get an understanding of their level of familiarity and experience. Once you know that you can tailor your message to fit their need.
How to Pass the Information
Your method of providing information will speak volumes about what you are trying to say. The Medium is the Message.
Consider a pre-flight safety demonstration. The airlines have a responsibility to provide everyone with basic safety information. If you’ve sat through one you probably don’t even look up any more. The information is passed to many people by a few, who demonstrate the features of the aircraft.
If you fly on a helicopter though, the level of information is elevated. Not only do you need to don a special suit and sit through a long pre-flight briefing, but before even getting to that stage you must go to a multi-day training course to learn how to use the equipment and escape from a helicopter.
And I’m sure that pilots are required to undergo even more stringent training. As the number of people reduce the intensity of the training increases.
Be Specific – If you are looking for a specific result then you need to be specific in how you pass information to people.
If you are trying to get a raise then a note in the company newsletter won’t be the best way to go about it. The situation calls for a face to face meeting.
Different industries have different methods of communication. It is up to you to leverage these within your particular Communication Culture to be the most effective.
Take Responsibility – Never assume that the information will make it to the right people, if you don’t place it directly in their hands yourself. Unless there is a very clear trickle down communications policy in your organization then the necessary information probably won’t make it all the way to the sharp end where it needs to be.
Define who needs the information and make sure they get it when needed. They’ll be grateful for it.
Remove any one of the three sides of the Communication Triangle and the message falters. Not involving the right people is a miscommunication by omission. After all, people can’t act on something if they don’t know it exists or are unaware of the requirement.
Take a few moments at the beginning of a new project and figure out who needs to use this information. This will save you time and frustration down the road and will show others that you are truly involved in the outcome.