I am writing a book with what some would say is an unrealistic goal: fixing workplace communication. With such a goal in mind, I believe ongoing feedback must be an essential part of the writing process, so I decided to share my work as it evolves.
This issue of Generative Communication is the opening of Part 02 of the book. I am excited to receive your feedback, ideas, questions, and insights. Please share them here.
Part 02: Ready? AIM!
I live in two professional worlds in parallel. For years, I have divided my professional life between being a Quality and Process Innovation Manager and a freelancer Creativity Enabler and Content Shaper. Juggling these two (or three) seemingly unrelated domains is not trivial, but it fills me with energy. Simply put, there is never a dull moment, and I rarely find myself doing the same thing two days in a row. But the best thing about being immersed in two different professional domains is the occasional magical occurrence when the two worlds collide, creating insights that would likely not be possible otherwise. That is precisely how the idea of Fixing Workplace Communication was conceived.
For years, I have been participating in and leading numerous interactions as a Quality Manager. As you can expect, most of them have suffered from the flaws we have listed. Somehow, it felt normal. Everybody seemed to be at peace with the inherent ineffectiveness of email, instant messaging, and meetings. So many pointless meetings. Not that the topics we’ve discussed weren’t necessary. On the contrary, in many cases, the interaction itself was essential; unfortunately, the discussion was futile. But, hey, if everybody accepts that, why fight it, right?
At the same time, outside the bubble of my workplace, I communicated rigorously by writing articles (and a book), delivering talks, leading workshops, and mentoring people. In that parallel universe, every word seemed to count. Every text was carefully crafted; if I failed to communicate effectively, people wouldn’t return for more of my content. The more I wrote and spoke in that world, the bigger the gap between what I achieved through communication and the frustrating experiences with my workplace interactions grew. And yet, it took me quite some time to notice this dissonance, let alone figure out how to fix it.
As I wrote, talked, read, and listened more, I began to think about what worked in the way I created and consumed content and what didn’t. I started understanding the pillars of communicating clear, impactful ideas and co-creating even better ideas with others. Not long after, I realized the same principles could help me improve my communication with my office colleagues. Whatever worked with my audience and clients in the external world must work when I interact with my associates at work.
And so I started with the primary thing I (and many others) do when creating professional content: think about what I wish to communicate and how to do that effectively before writing even a single word. I rarely just dump what I have in mind on paper and share it with the world. When I process what I wish to express and consider how to articulate it, the result is significantly better. One hundred percent of the time. With the realization that workplace communication can be fixed using the same mindset and practices, I started with the three basic questions any content writer asks as they stare at the blank page:
- What am I trying to achieve in the grander scheme of things? What is my mission?
- What next step will take me closer to my destination? Is it an idea? A question? Is it something that I need the help of others to accomplish?
- Who am I communicating with? Who can help me realize the operative step I’ve defined?
Communication is never the goal — it is the means. To communicate effectively, we must start by asking where we are heading. What is our destination? If we cannot identify and phrase a concrete Mission that goes beyond the specific interaction, we can never communicate effectively. In fact, without a Mission to guide us, we cannot even evaluate the effectiveness of our interactions. Any instance of communication must also be designed to realize some Initiative — something we wish to change, and that will take us one step closer to realizing our Mission. And finally, we always communicate with others, and we do so because we need their help in achieving our goals (preferably, our joint goals). These are our Associates, and we must consider their views, perspectives, and knowledge in every interaction.
Defining our Mission and an operative Initiative and identifying our Associates is the basis of effective communication. Without this first step, it doesn’t matter how articulated our email is or how professional we believe we lead a meeting. This is the first step to ensure our communication is meaningful, intentful, and structured.
Effective communication starts with crafting the iAIM statement:
I and my [Associates] need to [Initiative] to [Mission]
In the following three chapters, we shall explore each of these components and see how we can use them as a lens through which we can improve any interaction.