A Checklist for Clear Communication
Think of how often you communicate with people during the day. You write emails, facilitate meetings, participate in conference calls, create reports, devise presentations, debate with your colleagues… the list goes on.
We can spend almost our entire day communicating. So, it stands to reason that communicating clearly and effectively can boost productivity.
This is why the 7 C’s of Communication are helpful. The 7 C’s provide a checklist for making sure that your meetings, emails, conference calls, reports, and presentations are well constructed and clear – so your audience gets your message.
In this article and in the video, below, we’ll look at each of the 7 C’s of Communication and illustrate each element with both good and bad examples.
According to the 7 C’s, communication needs to be:
When writing or speaking to someone, be clear about your goal or message. What is your purpose in communicating with this person? If you’re not sure, then your audience won’t be either.
To be clear, try to minimize the number of ideas in each sentence. Make sure that it’s easy for your reader to understand your meaning. People shouldn’t have to “read between the lines” and make assumptions on their own to understand what you’re trying to say.
I wanted to write you a quick note about Daniel, who’s working in your department. He’s a great asset, and I’d like to talk to you more about him when you have time.
What is this email about? Well, we’re not sure. First, if there are multiple Daniels in John’s department, John won’t know who Skip is talking about.
Next, what is Daniel doing, specifically, that’s so great? We don’t know that either. It’s so vague, that John will definitely have to write back for more information.
Last, what is the purpose of this email? Does Skip simply want to have an idle chat about Daniel or is there some more specific goal here? There’s no sense of purpose to this message, so it’s a bit confusing.
I wanted to write you a quick note about Daniel Kedar, who’s working in your department. In recent weeks, he’s helped the IT department through several pressing deadlines on his own time.
We’ve got a tough upgrade project due to run over the next three months, and his knowledge and skills would prove invaluable. Could we please have his help with this work?
I’d appreciate speaking with you about this. When is it best to call you to discuss this further?
This second message is much clearer because the reader has the information he needs to take action.
When you’re concise in your communication, you stick to the point and keep it brief. Your audience doesn’t want to read six sentences when you could communicate your message in three. Ask yourself:
- Are there any adjectives or “filler words” that you can delete? You can often eliminate words like “for instance,” “you see,” “definitely,” “kind of,” “literally,” “basically,” or “I mean.”
- Are there any unnecessary sentences?
- Have you repeated the point several times, in different ways?
I wanted to touch base with you about the email marketing campaign we kind of sketched out last Thursday. I really think that our target market is definitely going to want to see the company’s philanthropic efforts. I think that could make a big impact, and it would stay in their minds longer than a sales pitch.
For instance, if we talk about the company’s efforts to become sustainable, as well as the charity work we’re doing in local schools, then the people that we want to attract are going to remember our message longer. The impact will just be greater.
What do you think?
This email is too long! There’s repetition, and there’s plenty of “filler” taking up space.
Watch what happens when we’re concise and take out the filler words:
I wanted to quickly discuss the email marketing campaign that we analyzed last Thursday. Our target market will want to know about the company’s philanthropic efforts, especially our goals to become sustainable and help local schools.
This would make a far greater impact, and it would stay in their minds longer than a traditional sales pitch.
What do you think?
When your message is concrete, your audience has a clear picture of what you’re telling them. There are details (but not too many!) and vivid facts, and there’s a laser-like focus. Your message is solid.
Consider this advertising copy:
The Lunchbox Wizard will save you time every day.
A statement like this probably won’t sell many of these products. There’s no passion, no vivid detail, nothing that creates emotion, and nothing that tells people in the audience why they should care. This message isn’t concrete enough to make a difference.
How much time do you spend every day packing your kids’ lunches? No more! Just take a complete Lunchbox Wizard from your refrigerator each day to give your kids a healthy lunch and have more time to play or read with them!
This copy is better because there are vivid images. The audience can picture spending quality time with their kids – and what parent could argue with that? And mentioning that the product is stored in the refrigerator explains how the product is also practical. The message has come alive through these details.
When your communication is correct, your audience will be able to understand it. And correct communication is also error-free communication. Make sure your message is correct by asking yourself the following questions:
- Do the technical terms you use fit your audience’s level of education or knowledge?
- Have you checked your writing for grammatical errors? (Remember, spell checkers won’t catch everything).
- Are all names and titles spelled correctly?
Thanks so much for meeting me at lunch today! I enjoyed our conservation, and I’m looking forward to moving ahead on our project. I’m sure that the two-weak deadline won’t be an issue.
Thanks again, and I’ll speak to you soon!
If you read that example fast, then you might not have caught any errors. But on closer inspection, you’ll find two. Can you see them?
The first error is that the writer accidentally typed conservation instead of conversation. This common error can happen when you’re typing too fast. The other error is using weak instead of a week.
Again, spell checkers won’t catch word errors like this, which is why it’s so important to proofread everything!
When your communication is coherent, it’s logical. All points are connected and relevant to the main topic, and the tone and flow of the text is consistent.
I wanted to write you a quick note about the report you finished last week. I gave it to Michelle to proof, and she wanted to make sure you knew about the department meeting we’re having this Friday. We’ll be creating an outline for the new employee handbook.
As you can see, this email doesn’t communicate its point very well. Where is Michelle’s feedback on Traci’s report? She started to mention it, but then she changed the topic to Friday’s meeting.
I wanted to write you a quick note about the report you finished last week. I gave it to Michelle to proof, and she let me know that there are a few changes that you’ll need to make. She’ll email you her detailed comments later this afternoon.
Notice that in the good example, Michelle does not mention Friday’s meeting. This is because the meeting reminder should be an entirely separate email. This way, Traci can delete the report feedback email after she makes her changes, but save the email about the meeting as her reminder to attend. Each email has only one main topic.
In a complete message, the audience has everything they need to be informed and, if applicable, take action.
- Does your message include a “call to action,” so that your audience clearly knows what you want them to do?
- Have you included all relevant information – contact names, dates, times, locations, and so on?
I just wanted to send you all a reminder about the meeting we’re having tomorrow!
See you then,
This message is not complete, for obvious reasons. What meeting? When is it? Where? Chris has left his team without the necessary information.
I just wanted to remind you about tomorrow’s meeting on the new telecommuting policies. The meeting will be at 10 a.m. in the second-level conference room. Please let me know if you can’t attend.
See you then,
Courteous communication is friendly, open and honest. There are no hidden insults or passive-aggressive tones. You keep your reader’s viewpoint in mind, and you’re empathetic to their needs.
I wanted to let you know that I don’t appreciate how your team always monopolizes the discussion at our weekly meetings. I have a lot of projects, and I really need time to get my team’s progress discussed as well. So far, thanks to your department, I haven’t been able to do that. Can you make sure they make time for me and my team next week?
Well, that’s hardly courteous! Messages like this can potentially start office-wide fights. And this email does nothing but create bad feelings, which can lower productivity and morale. A little bit of courtesy, even in difficult situations, can go a long way.
I wanted to write you a quick note to ask a favor. During our weekly meetings, your team does an excellent job of highlighting their progress. But this uses some of the time available for my team to highlight theirs. I’d really appreciate it if you could give my team a little extra time each week to fully cover their progress reports.
Thanks so much, and please let me know if there’s anything I can do for you!
What a difference! This email is courteous and friendly, and it has little chance of spreading bad feelings around the office.