Communicating at the Right Level

Forrest Christian Change, Managing, Organizations Leave a Comment

I’m helping out a European bank with some communications work. I know that the secret will be to communicate at the right level. The right level for the role, sure, but also the right level for certain people.

It’ll be tough. I know that in the meetings to communicate the vision across and down the organization’s organizations (it’s a bank of banks) there will be people who are not fit for their roles. I’ll have a whole group of technical experts in various fields that are bigger than their bosses, put lower simply because they do not have the fiefdom for recognition.

But I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I really don’t know how to communicate at the right level.

John Morgan, a pastor in New Mexico, seems to be pretty adept at it. He uses Requisite principles to manage his staff and even the volunteers. He’s gotten a lot of mileage out of using requisite principles in his communications, whether sermons, talks to leaders in the community, or  writing.

“I never shy away from saying the abstraction at my own level,” he said.  “I give them the full idea I have. Then I follow it with a story about my kids or my dogs.”

Kids and dogs can both be pretty concrete, which brings it all the way down the abstraction ladder. Sometimes we understand better in our stories, in parable, understanding more than our minds rationally comprehend.

Just ask a monk.

But it’s a skill that I don’t have, or one that I don’t know exactly how to use. I know that the people I’m helping need this, along with a dose of political savvy. A bit of Niccoli, as it were. But they will need to communicate at the right level or they will be stonewalled in the conversation. The big, important points won’t survive and the organization will be the worse for it.

Peter Block teaches that if you, as a consultant (internal or external), have to explain something more than twice, it’s not that they don’t get it: they simply disagree. But sometimes that’s because they can’t see what you are saying, can’t comprehend the complete picture. Sometimes it’s because you use too much jargon, language too specific to the field you work in.

I’m trying to communicate as clearly as possible at the various levels, helping them get real understanding. Of course, that risks real disagreement, where they understand you and simply don’t think you are right.

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