19 Jun A Model For Structuring Your Workplace Communication

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Do you regularly need endorsement for your ideas from your colleagues, manager, customers or service providers? Or perhaps you have found yourself needing to resolve a conflict with a client or service provider? Do you ever find yourself needing to get past a gatekeeper before you can interact with the right person?

To get what you want in life you have to get other people to give it to you. Whether you are a mother or father, neighbour or relative, customer or service provider, manager or team member it’s in your interest to learn how to influence the people around you. Influence is all about moving someone from Point A to Point B and it’s a learnt set of skills that anyone can master.

We know that organisations perform at their best when the decision-making processes they use provide the means for input from a diverse range of views. A key characteristic of successful organisations is the ability of senior decision-makers to ensure that a diversity of values, levels of seniority or experience, and personality types all have a legitimate voice. Something many of us know too well is that this diversity in meetings and project groups can potentially result in complete chaos and potentially dangerous or at least misdirected communication.

Whether you are making formal presentations, participating in team meetings, updating the boss, or seeking the support of staff, it is important to be clear on what type of information your stakeholders require in order to make decisions. The type of information that people look for effects the quality of communication and is determined in part by the degree to which people are Big Picture or Little Picture thinkers.

What is your current approach?

Let me ask you, how do you normally go about structuring an important communication? Do you start with PowerPoint, collating existing slides, or creating a few new ones and then working out what to say about them? Or perhaps you use the, ‘introduction, aim, credentials, body one, body two, body three, summary, conclusion’ model, which is commonly taught in schools and universities. Some people use a variety of mind mapping techniques like as the ‘fishbone technique’. And others just ‘wing it’ and hope their charisma will do the work for them! Do any of these approaches sound familiar?

Whether you are communicating one to one, one to few, or one to many, if you are keen to influence your audience in your presentation, you need a model that focuses on the different needs and expectations of your different stakeholders. You see, individuals take in information differently, learn differently, and form opinions differently. As a result, individual stakeholders will be silently preoccupied by the different agendas and expectations they have of you. These agendas and expectations lead them to formulate certain questions that they are expecting you to address in your presentation. Let me share a model with you to help you achieve greater buy-in and to cater for the diverse needs of your stakeholders.

An audience-focused model

The model to consider when structuring your presentations was developed by Dr Bernice McCarthy. McCarthy drew on the various theories of adult learning proposed by psychologists and theorists such as Jung, Kolb and Knowles. She created an instructional system that addresses the intrinsic informational needs of all audience types. Dr McCarthy called her model the 4Mat System. 4Mat recognises that individuals need to have four key questions answered.

In some cases, by virtue of their personality and preferred learning style, audience members have a preference for one of these four questions over the others. In order to be convinced by your argument they will need to have their primary question answered. This is not to say however that they will not be interested in other questions too. It follows then that in order to capture the hearts and minds of all audience members you will need to be sure that your presentation answers all four questions in a given order.

There are four key questions to address in this audience-focused model:

1. WHY? The audience member has a need to clarify the context and rationale.

2. WHAT? The audience member has a need to identify the detail of what is to be learnt.

3. HOW? The audience member has a need to explore how to use and apply what is learnt. 4. WHAT IF?/WHAT ELSE? This is where the audience member needs to outline the alternatives for the new information to modify, adapt and create new contexts.

The presenter who can move effortlessly through the various questions is the presenter who will elegantly address the needs of their entire audience and in turn influence them to do what they want.

Communication strategies for dealing with different audience types

If you are a big picture thinker (someone who prefers an overview) and have to communicate with specific thinkers (people who love the detail) it can be very frustrating. If you are who wants to focus their attention on the strategic level (the WHY? And WHAT IF?), you prefer not to get bogged down with details (the WHAT?). On the other hand, the specific thinker wants to give you the important details, they get stuck in the WHAT? section of 4Mat, often rendering you entirely bamboozled. To build rapport with specific thinkers give them lots of details and break information down into small chunks. Once they are on top of all the details, you will be able to explain the overall picture to them. Remember that if your stakeholder, or employee is a specific thinker they need a detailed presentation with facts, figures, details, charts and statistics in order to make a decision.

Communication strategies for dealing with big picture thinkers

If you are a specific thinker and you need to communicate with big picture thinkers, it can be very confusing. Big picture thinkers are people who start from general principles. They will present you with concepts and overall perspectives. They want the forest first, not the trees. You will improve your communication with these people by talking first about the overall concept and large ideas, spend more time in the WHY? section building rapport and proving the need. Avoid going into detail (the WHAT?) until you have built solid rapport. And always remember that if your customer has a global preference they need shorter, more conceptual presentations and pitches.

Where do you sit on the continuum?

It’s important to note that most people do not neatly operate consistently as either big picture or specific thinker. They tend to operate somewhere on the continuum, and the demands of a position will also have some impact on the degree to which people operate in their day-to-day working lives. It’s certainly important not to box or label people inappropriately.

Go forth and flex your style!

Switched-on business people who are keen to accelerate their career or business development have high emotional intelligence. They can intuit their environment and make clever, masterful choices about why and how to act in certain ways, whilst preserving the integrity of the people with whom they interact. They know how to interpret the verbal and non-verbal clues that people provide about their filters or preferences. Then they can match their approach to the needs of their stakeholders. It’s really all about a keenness to ‘flex’ your style. Do this and you will build strong rapport with people.

So, enjoy getting to know the people around you. Celebrate your sameness and differences and achieve the most from your relationships. You don’t have to change the world with your actions, just take personal responsibility for the decisions you make and they way you chose to treat the people around you every day. If we all did that it would be a better world. The people around you aren’t dysfunctional, they are just different to you!


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Michelle Bowden is an authority on presentation & persuasion in business. Michelle is a CSP (the highest designation for speakers in the world), co-creator of the PRSI (a world-first psychometric indicator that tests your persuasiveness at work), best selling internationally published author (Wiley), editor of How to Present magazine, producer of Michelle Bowden TV, and a regular commentator in print, radio and online media. Sign up for Michelle’s FREE How to Present magazine TODAY http://michellebowden.com.au