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Dialogue: the four dialogic principles for successful communication

"But you don't understand!" exclaimed the manager, "this new initiative is vital for our team. If it doesn't work we could all be out of a job!"

"Uh-huh... Really... Explain to me again how this new initiative is so different from previous initiatives that were also going to cost me my job if they didn't work" asked the long-term employee.

"Look; we have to do this. Can't you see?"

"Why do we have to do this? No-one has explained to me yet 'why'."

And therein lies the fundamental problem of most management initiatives. They leave one small, seemingly insignificant cog unattended—letting the person at the 'sharp end' know why a new initiative has been launched and what their own personal role is expected to be.

Even those companies who do let the employees know the what and why very often fail to elicit anything other than tacit compliance and eventual failure of the initiative.

The reason is simple—the employees are given no part in the discussion about why a new initiative is needed, the business case for it, what shape the initiative should take to meet the business need, and what their individual role and responsibility is in order to bring the initiative to a successful conclusion.

At the heart of the issue lies communication:

successful communication is not a one-to-one or one-to-many transaction, but a dialogue between interested parties

and successful dialogues rely on four principles: Reality, Reaction, Co-ordination and Purposefulness.


1. Being real

"Do not say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary" Charles Darwin, 1859.

For employees (and customers, too!) 'reality' will be those things that most directly affect them. Yes, 'reality' is a perceptive subjectivity, but don't expect someone to change their perception of 'reality' just because you have a different viewpoint.

Internal and external customers of your communication are extremely adapt at seeing 'beyond the rhetoric', at exploiting any gap between rhetoric and their 'reality'.

If you are going to promise something, even just manage an expectation, ensure that what you are promising or managing is actually deliverable in the vast majority of instances.


2. React to what is said

How many managers or salespeople have we ourselves had to endure who listened politely to what you say, nodded their head and gave assuring "ah ha's" even, yet completely and utterly fail to act on what you have said? How many times have such interactions left you feeling like you had just spoken to a smiling and amiable wall?

Dialogue is not dialogue if the other person or persons don't react or show they actually understood what you said.


3. Co-ordinate your communication

Too often the communication is 'lost' on the recipients because the language used is jargon, or their are just too many implicit and explicit messages. Given a hundred different messages, which one should the recipient attend to first? Second? Last?

All communication should be in harmony to the strategic framework—that is, the vision and the support documentation—so that it responds to the vision, objectives and values; so that the links between the vision and the messages are clear; and so that the language used is common to all stakeholders.


4. Understanding the purpose of the message

Before even beginning a communication process, it is vital to understand what the customer or employee knows and feels about you and the ideas you represent. Knowing this helps you decide the purpose of the message.

Akin to Maslow's psychological heirarchy, there are four levels of purpose, each of which pre-supposes and relies on the existence of the previous level. They are sequential and it is not possible to achieve an objective until all levels are completed, in order and fully.

The levels, in ascending order are:
Awareness > Understanding > Conviction > Action

4.1: Awareness
Let's take as an example a company attempting to differentiate itself in the marketplace, with the end goal of bringing someone to make a purchase of their service.

Without bringing your existence to the attention of the prospective customer you cannot move on to the higher levels. Indeed, even internal communications often fall short on this point: they fail to restate the context of the communication, which is in effect 'awareness'.

4.2: Understanding
Once a prospect has gained awareness, they are then ready to move on to understanding what it is that differentiates you from the 'noise' of your competitors. They will need to understand what specific qualities you bring to the marketplace.

This level is vital to internal communication: the biggest block I come across in assessing why an internal communication has failed is not that the staff don't know what is going on, but that they don't understand 'why' it is going on.

4.3: Conviction
Customers now have awareness and understanding; they now need convincing that your service is right for them.

Even more importantly, they must be convinced that you must be their supplier, because you have a distinctive competence that meets their specific needs.

4.4: Action
Finally, this conviction in you must be turned into action. It is up to you to decide what action they should ideally take—a phone call into a sales office, perhaps, or a request for a consultant to visit; even a request for further supporting literature.

In internal communication the primary level is all to obvious—action. Yet unless those who are to deliver the service are made aware, helped to understand and are convinced they will not deliver effectively or efficiently.



At the heart of all management lies communication, and successful communication is not a one-to-one or one-to-many transaction, but a dialogue between interested parties. Successful dialogues rely on four principles: Reality, Reaction, Co-ordination and Purposefulness.

Understanding what the other's 'reality' is, giving and receiving appropriate reactions to feedback, co-ordinating coherent messages and understand the purpose of each message are the four key principles for successful communication.


Reports I have written:

Measuring the impact and ROI of social media
Measuring the impact and ROI of social media - for Ark Group
Making social media work for your business
Making Social Media work for your business - for Ark Group
Social Media: the new business communication landscape
Social Media: The New Business Communication Landscape - for Ark Group
How to get started with podcasting in your organisation
How to get started with podcasting in your organisation - for Melcrum Publishing
How to use social media to solve critical internal communication issues
Contributing author to How to use social media to solve critical internal communication issues - for Melcrum Publishing

How to use social media to engage employees
Contributing author to How to use social media to engage employees - for Melcrum Publishing

Contributing author to How to communicate with hard-to-reach employees - for Melcrum Publishing



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