Knowing what, when and how much to say


The crux of communication seems to involve three primary factors, which are the “what”, the “when” and “how much”.

Let’s discuss the “what” of communication first. When we want to initiate a conversation, respond to a statement/question or to write an email, we need to think of the content of what we are going to use. This is the easy part since most of us will – at this juncture- know the gist of what message we want to convey to the other party. However, there are many ways of bringing this message across to the other party. Some might go down well and some might be offensive. So, how do we decide which approach to use? There are actually no fixed and fast rules to this question. The success of every communication actually hinge on how well the senders of the message know their recipients. Yes, successful communication depends more on the characteristics of the recipients as well as their personalities than on the actual content of the message itself.  For the recipients, are they someone who is able to take a joke? Are they someone who is serious or light-hearted? Do they prefer a frank response or more of a dissociated reply? Theses are very serious issues to consider if we want to make any communication successful.

One strategy that I often use is by placing myself in the shoes of the recipients based on the times that I have known them. I visualise myself as the recipients with their temperaments and then having the message delivered to me in different forms. From there, I will determine and select the most effective way of communicating. However, this method is highly ineffective if the recipients are actually acquaintances that we do not know for long or that we do not understand them well.  In this case, we will have to strategise and choose the best approach.  Avoiding sensitive topics and things that are too personal are good ways to ensure successful communication.

Now, let’s discuss the “when” of communication. Once again, there are rules on this. What matters most is the urgency and appropriateness of the message. If the matter is urgent, it’s best to say it outright and to the point. However, the tricky part comes in when a matter is urgent but we find it inappropriate to say it in the current circumstances. In this case it’s better to hold on to the message first.  Some communicators find it necessary that they speak their mind as and when they feel like it. It’s advisable not to do so since tact is an important consideration in any communication.

Most communicators often consider the “what” and “when” of communication but usually neglects the “how much” of communication. In most successful communication, getting to the point will be a good thing because it works both for the recipients who wish to know the message fast and for the recipients who want details (since providing a basic structure of the message can enable us to provide the details with ease later should the recipients request for it).

However, there are a few instances where a more elaborate communication may be encouraged.  One example will be at a social party. When someone initiates a conversation in a more detailed way, it increases the chances of a conversation. Similarly, using open-ended questions has the same effect for a more fruitful dialogue.  Another appropriate occasion will be when more details are needed. These can happen when a recipient of the message enquired about the senders’ overseas vacation. Or it can take place in the form of an email when the recipients wished to verify the details of a complaint lodged by an angry customer before responding.

Therefore, understanding the “what”, “when” and “how much” will provide any communicator with a firm foothold for a successful communication.


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