Before you Speak: Answer these Two Questions

There are a million nuances that go into our communica­tion, but at work and in our personal lives, it boils down to one thing: less is more.

The most effective communicators I know, even ones who I have vehemently disagreed with, have been able to distill their message into a few concise sound­bites. The result of this work and discipline has meant respect and admiration, if not agreement.

And that’s the goal, isn’t it? In the workplace or even in a marriage, we could never expect people to agree on things all the time. But they can have open dialogue about the things they disagree with, every time.

People complicate things when it comes to communica­tion because they miss asking the two key questions everybody should always start with in any communications context. Disciplining yourself to answer them for yourself will go a long way to helping improve how you communicate in any context:



Doing the work of answering these two questions clearly and honestly will help set you up for success in almost any context.

It takes a bit of empathy to answer the first question. Who is your audience, and how might they receive the information you want to share with them? How do they like to be connected to? What level of knowledge or sophistication do they have with the content of your message?

For example, a room full of salespeople don’t need to know the technical background of a project, just as your spouse doesn’t need you to rehash all their shortcomings before asking them to change a behavior.

Knowing your audience means respecting their time and intelligence and communicating with them in a way that they will respond to.

It takes a lot of self-awareness to answer the second ques­tion. What is the one goal or purpose behind this email, conversation, presentation, or meeting?

For example, the surface answer might be, “I want a raise” or “I want my spouse to know they hurt my feelings,” but the real an­swer might require some serious reflection. “I operate in a vacuum in my job and don’t feel like I’m seen or appreciated” might mean that the purpose of your talk with your boss is more than just asking for a raise; it’s figuring out a more con­sistent means of communication. Be clear about your purpose or your goal — and being honest — will help you keep clear on whether people are hearing what you want them to.

This article is excerpted from Honestly Speaking: How the Way we Communicate Transforms Leadership, Love, and Life, published July 30 2019.

Communications and culture leader, author, certified coach, lawyer, yoga teacher.

Communications and culture leader, author, certified coach, lawyer, yoga teacher.