Good communication or effective communication: which do you have?

Good communication occurs when the receiver’s understanding matches the meaning intended by the sender. Understanding is the goal.

Effective communication occurs when the receiver acts in the way intended by the sender. Influence is the goal.

Are there any situations in business where you would be happy with just good communication? There may be, but they would be few and far between.

Most of the time you write to influence behaviour: to get customers to buy, to get employees to work in a particular way, to get authorities to act in your favour.

Effective communication requires good communication. But it requires much more. One of the keys to effective communication is to know your reader well. It’s useful to visualise them across the desk from you as you write, or to visualise them reading your final document.

Know your reader

Subject-matter questions

  • What is the reader’s existing knowledge of the subject matter?
  • How did the reader learn about this? on-the-job training? formal education?
  • Does the reader have personal interests outside of the work environment that might help them understand the subject matter?
  • What are the consequences if the reader does not fully understand the document?

Attitude questions

  • Is the reader enthusiastic? curious? worried? hostile? afraid? about this document?
  • Is the reader motivated to read it?
  • In general, is the reader open to new ideas?
  • Are there others in the reader’s environment that may influence the reader’s reaction?
  • What is the impact on the reader’s job?

Personal characteristics

  • What is the reader’s level of schooling and reading level?
  • What is the reader’s experience in reading similar material?
  • Do the readers fall into a particular socio-economic class or culture that may affect how they react?

 Language questions

  •  Is the reader a native speaker of the language used in the document? If not, what degree of difficulty does the reader have with the language?
  • Does the reader know the specialised terminology used in the document?
  • Does the reader learn better from text or graphics?
  • What is the reader’s familiarity with using reference tools, such as indexes, headers and footers, tables of contents, online search systems?