Purposeful communication – beyond shared understanding

Traditional models of communication emphasise the joint understanding of content as the goal of communication. A message is formulated by one party, coded into media (speech, text, images) transmitted, decoded by the receiver and reformulated as an idea.

Feedback and re-transmitting continues until both the sender and the receiver have the same idea. That is, the aim is a shared understanding.

Purposeful communication starts by asking ‘Why?”.

The purpose of all business communication is to impact the attitudes or behaviour of readers in some way.

For example, marketing communication is aimed, ultimately, at getting people to buy from you. Policies and procedures are aimed at causing people to act in a particular way.

The ultimate purpose of many forms of communication goes beyond understanding and effectively transmitting ideas. It is more about influence.

So, the simplest way of testing any communication piece is to look at your audience. Are they doing what you wanted them to do? Are they moving towards doing what you want?

Of course, to be able to make a judgement like this you must first know what your purpose is.

Define purpose before you write

As in all endeavours, it’s best to know what you are trying to achieve before starting an activity.

Now purpose depends on the type of organisation you are.

For a business, its ultimate purpose is probably to make a profit, but there will be other important things like ensuring its employees work safely, protecting the environment and the like. A business will have other aims and objectives related to its purpose like increasing market share, keeping quality on track, or improving the skills of its employees. If communication is to be effective, it will work to support these aims and objectives.

For a government agency or some other type of organisation, its purpose will be more related to fulfilling its mission. That mission may be to provide good roads or to administer taxes fairly or to provide care services to a part of the community. These organisations also have lower aims and objectives that are related to their higher purpose.

The fundamental purpose of communication in an organization is to enable and energize employees to carry out its strategic intent.

Communication is a means, not an end, to success. The fundamental purpose of workplace communication is to enhance the business performance of the organization. Communication succeeds only to the extent that it enables and energizes employees to align their work with the organization’s strategic intent. A preoccupation with artistry or diction may divert attention away from the business issues at hand.

The measurement of communication must concentrate on its effectiveness with respect to strategic direction,. They measure against a progression of awareness, understanding, acceptance, and commitment, and they reflect the fundamental purpose of communication as a bridge between strategy and its successful execution.

Can you always define purpose up front?

Purpose sometimes changes as you get into a project. Often you start with something particular in mind but it changes as you become more familiar with the needs of what is going on around you.