There is communication and then there is successful communication. There are three key concepts to successful communication, the Three C's. The three C's are context, clarification, and connection. Leadership and communication often flounder because a lack of all or some of these three important components in the message from the leader, and/or a lack of participation by the individual or group to make sure they apply these to the message.
Several years ago my two middle children were involved with a Science Olympiad team. One of the events was called, "Write It – Do It" In this event, teams of two students were involved in recreating a structure of something. The first student would be sent into a room to look at the structure created from various items. The items ranged from clay, nuts, bolts, wire, and/or various other construction or craft items. The first student then had 25 minutes to write an items list and instructions on how to create the model. Then the second student would come in, after the item had been removed and the first student had left, and have 20 minutes to recreate the same structure without seeing it and based only on a pile of items and the instructions the first student wrote. As you can imagine, the written instructions were key to the successful recreation of the initial structure.
My son, who was twelve at the time, and his nine-year-old sister were a team. We would often have them practice for this event. One particular practice round reiterated the importance of the Three C's. My son was tasked with writing the instructions and the items list for the structure they had to recreate.
The items they were given were:
When I looked at the items list and instructions he had written the items needed were:
I had to take a moment and think. This was not the same list. After looking at the list, I began to laugh. Now, to provide some context as you read this, we are not a golfing family. My kids and I have never been golfing because I am sure the putt-putt variety doesn't really count. Their dad may have golfed a couple of times in college but my kids did not have any experience with golfing or golfing equipment. I know it is probably a major southern parenting fail to not have your kids go golfing at least one, but they have survived so far. Now, if you look back at the list again, and you have eaten at a Cracker Barrel restaurant you will see where context in the message comes into play. He had named the 2 golf tees as the 2 "weird cracker barrel things". While we have little to no experience with golf, we do have quite a bit of experience eating at Cracker Barrel and playing the peg games on the tables. His sister had no problem knowing what he was talking about and they were able to successfully recreate the practice item. Had his instructions been given to another student, there probably would have been some confusion. Sibling pairs often do well at this event because they have shared life experiences and therefore have a context in their communication. Establishing context and understanding is critical in business and personal communication. Knowing who is receiving the message and where they are coming from often plays a key role in how and whether a message is accepted and understood.
While context was important in their practice event, I had to clarify what was written because my context and life experience and general knowledge of golf told me that was a golf tee. I clarified by asking my son about it and he confirmed what I had thought. Now if another student had been partnered with my son, there could have been some issues. Since the event does not allow the students to ask each other questions or to clarify the instructions, the initial set has to be very clear and understandable. In any communication, clarification is important in making sure all parties are discussing the same issues and ideas or are headed toward the same goal. Clarifying the message helps in making sure the desired outcome is accomplished. Leadership is often about clarifying the message.
The third C is connection. In this case, my son and daughter had a family connection and knew each other quite well. They were able to cut through some of the more structured and finer details because they had their own kind of way of communicating and understanding each other. In business, particularly in engaging potential or new customers, it is critical to build a connection or relationship. Building a relationship and connection helps in creating a foundation of understood context and a clarified message.
Often it is thought that it is a leader's responsibility to make sure their communication strategy contains The Three C's, but in reality, it is always the responsibility of any communicator to utilize these three concepts to achieve successful communication. Whether in a professional or personal arena, adding these concepts to communication helps in making sure the message is received and understood more clearly. Clear messages produce clear action items and a clear path to achieve a goal.
Successful communication is not difficult but does require all players to utilize context, clarification, and connection. Whether it is the person speaking or the person receiving the message, these three concepts need to be put into practice. In the end, it is important to remember, sometimes a golf tee is not a golf tee.