12 Factors To Consider When Crafting A Message

by  Leigh Steere  |  Workplace Issues
12 Factors To Consider When Crafting A Message

Business leaders are communicators. Your words shape perceptions and influence opinions. Employees, customers, and shareholders look to you for information, as well as interpretation of what the facts mean for them. Your stakeholders seek clarity, completeness, and truth. Is that what you are providing?

Consider these 12 points:

  1. Proximity: Are you viewing the scene from a helicopter or the ground? What vantage point will give listeners the details and perspective they need?
  2. Vantage point blindness: Imagine riding an elephant. You may have an excellent view of the horizon, but you cannot see the elephant’s feet or what you are trampling.
  3. Situational bias: Suppose your hourly workforce is grumbling about low wages. This situational dissatisfaction can breed a group cynicism that colors how they hear your messages.
  4. Spin: When you portray facts with the intent to create a specific impression or inspire a specific action, you walk a fine line between reporting news and manipulating your audience.
  5. Curation: When you purposely omit or edit facts to make a message more palatable, you erode trust. Listeners detect when they are not getting the full story. You also risk depriving people of the information they need to make sound business decisions.
  6. Reporter filters: If you personally are excited about an initiative, you may come across as a cheerleader. If you have doubts about a project, listeners may sense your lack of enthusiasm, even if you are trying to keep your opinions to yourself.
  7. Knowledge gaps: You can only report the information you have; if you don’t research fully, or if your sources withhold information, your output may be incomplete or inaccurate.
  8. Permission: Has someone asked you to withhold details that would be vital to a listener’s understanding and decision-making? What is your responsibility to press for permission to share the full story?
  9. Drawing conclusions: Check the facts, and your assumptions about those facts, before reporting news. Carefully consider all possible interpretations of the events before deciding what to communicate.
  10. Framing: Provide context to help the listener understand the significance of your message; context could include company history, competitive threats, etc.
  11. Squeaky wheel: Just because it’s loud or outrageous doesn’t mean it’s the most important or newsworthy.
  12. Placement: If something is on the front page of a newspaper with a bold headline, readers assume it’s more important than something buried on page 10 in small font.

A recent visit to the Newseum in Washington, D.C. inspired this post, particularly a Holocaust video that leaves viewers with the question, “If the media had treated this news differently, could we have saved lives?” This video and an article at History News Network paint a clear picture of a placement problem (#12 above):

The New York Times alone printed nearly 1,200 articles about what we have now come to call the Holocaust, about one every other day.

“The articles in the Times and elsewhere described the propagation of anti-Semitic laws in German allied countries; death from disease and starvation of hundreds of thousands in ghettos and labor camps; mass executions in Nazi-occupied Russia; and mass gassings in Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Majdanek. The articles also indicated that these were not isolated incidents, but part of a systematic campaign to kill all the Jews in Europe.

“And yet, at the end of the war and for decades afterward, Americans claimed they did not know about the Holocaust as it was happening. How was it possible for so much information to be available in the mass media and yet simultaneously for the public to be ignorant?

“The reason is that the American media…never treated the Holocaust as an important news story.”

I encourage you to read this challenging article in full and think about the implications for communicators.

People are looking to you, as a leader, for communication that will build understanding and lead to good decisions. Are you upholding the trust your stakeholders have placed in you?

Join the conversation. Any “ouch” stories related to the 12 points above?

About The Author

Articles By leigh-steere
Leigh Steere is a researcher, product developer, and adviser in the field of people management. She writes on fostering creativity, employee engagement, and high performance in the workplace. Visit for a free assessment of your management style and tips for managing more effectively.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Chery Gegelman  |  26 Mar 2016  |  Reply

Leigh – What a powerful post!

I’m sharing and pondering.

Thank you!

Dan Gabree  |  28 Mar 2016  |  Reply

Good article. So many factors to consider when trying to communicate. It is not just saying what you want to say, it is saying it in a way that allows your listeners to hear what you are trying to say.

Thank you.

Jane Anderson  |  29 Mar 2016  |  Reply

I absolutely devoured this article. I could identify with every single point – including the summary about the Holocaust. I heard people (under the age of 30) question its validity and it just baffles me that anyone can justify making that statement. What? I’m not sure if you call is ignorance or arrogance but something has gotten in the path between knowledge and assumption.

But back to your list. This is sort of an enhancement to #7. I would love to add one more detriment to good communication. The ‘need to know’ philosophy hurts more than helps. We have different learning styles and making assumptions about the level of detail I need to grasp the subject might be on a different plane than someone else. If you’re explaining something and getting blank stares in return, that’s a pretty good indication that the level of information needed for complete understanding has not yet been reached.

Leigh Steere  |  08 Apr 2016  |  Reply

Chery, Dan and Jane, thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment.

Jane, I love your proposed addition. Imagine a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. You may have a basic understanding of what the puzzle is supposed to look like, but it’s incomplete. That’s both unsatisfying and a potential business liability. A missing detail may be exactly the information needed to spark a “light bulb” moment—a new, richer understanding about how to solve a business challenge, for example.

Speakers and writers must make tough decisions about what to include and not include for the sake of time and space. If a communicator can’t incorporate all the available details, it’s important to say so and provide listeners with an avenue for getting more information—instead of unilaterally deciding that they don’t need more information.

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