The Principles of Communication

Note

This is an open-source article with the community providing support for it. For official Microsoft content, see Microsoft 365 documentation.

Communication Professionals will sometimes refer to the 7 Principles of Communication; sadly, these are not standardised (so probably level 200!), but there are some common themes which were used to inform the Communication Competency within the Microsoft 365 Maturity Model. If you are not a Communications professional you may find this interpretation of the principles helpful as part of a communications strategy, maturity assessment or technology selection.

Seven Principles

Effective

Every communication should have a clear purpose and should achieve that purpose to be effective. This includes what is said, how it is delivered, when it is sent/published and why people should take notice. You need to communicate your message in the fewest possible words, have the consistency of tone, voice, and content so that you can save time. Short, punchy statements are often more effective than rambling prose. Diagrams and images provide impact and clarity. Visual design should provide a good UX, support the message and the brand and make it easy for people to engage and pick out the important elements. Each message must have a logical conclusion and a call to action.

The need for active communication, where important or urgent notifications are emphasized above general messaging 'noise' and so direct their attention, should be considered alongside passive 'Publish and Track' or 'For Interest' ('Publish and Forget') approaches. Active communications should be carefully managed to prevent overuse or abuse.

Comprehensive

People shouldn’t be left wondering if there is more to come. The information communicated should be adequate and complete. Where possible, it should fully address the purpose and provide enough that the recipients can take the required action without delay, confusion or a reduction in productivity or motivation. Where communication cannot be completed in a single message etc. then it should clearly indicate that there is more to follow, with requisite when and how. Links to supporting material are recommended

Clarity

The purpose of messages should be clear; worded in such a way that the receiver understands the same thing which the sender wants to convey. Communications shouldn’t leave your team confused. Be clear of what format do you want to say it in. Be clear about your goal or purpose. It is also essential that the receiver is conversant with the language, inherent assumptions, and the mechanics of communication. Typically, sentences should be short, in the active voice and key elements stated it in separate bullet points.

Attention and Style

In good communication, the receiver’s attention is drawn to the message. People are different in behaviour, attention, emotions etc. so they may respond differently to the message. This may require constructing different message formats for different roles and grades. Senior staff should be seen to be acting in accordance with the messages, using the messaging tools and supporting the messaging processes. Formal communication is generally used for transmitting messages and other information; however, sometimes informal communication may prove more effective. Informal communication can be helpful for assessing the reaction of employees towards various policies. Both types should embrace the organization’s ethos; commonly this is positive, honest, respectful, open and polite.

Coherency

Communication often takes place across multiple tools/formats and over a period of time. It’s important that communication remains logical, well-planned, and self-reinforcing across these. There should be a good connection with the main topic and, often linked to company values, principles, and mission. Equally, communication should be consistent with the policies, plans, programs and objectives of the organization and not in conflict with them.

Timeliness and Urgency

Communication should be done at proper time and with the appropriate level of impact and urgency, to ensure that messages can be understood and acted upon to achieve their objective. It should be possible to differentiate Urgent and Import information and understand the time scale for any actions. There should be confidence that communication reaches their audience when intended.

Importance of Feedback

Feedback is very important to confirm that communication has been effective and to resolve questions, allow challenge, clarify actions etc. Sometimes there is a compliance requirement or monitoring function that needs to be addressed via feedback or a ‘read receipt’.

Steps to establish a Communications approach

When planning an active Communications strategy which aims to raise the maturity of this competency, completion of an audit to establish where the organisation currently is could be helpful. Subjects to consider are:

  • Existing reputation analysis [internally and externally]
  • Audience analysis and segmentation. This is especially important in large organisations with different divisions as not all messages will be relevant to everyone
  • ‘Competitor’ analysis from a performance perspective
  • ‘Competitor’ analysis in terms of media perception and reputation i.e. do they receive positive, neutral or negative media coverage on average, is their news covered or ignored?
  • Consumption.  How do the people you’re trying to reach consume news? Consider the device they use and the format.

A next step would be obtaining Board-level approved objectives from organisational and communications perspectives, clearly outlining what they (the board) are trying to achieve.

This would look at identifying each audience group within their organisation and assigning comms accordingly.

Before delivering corporate communications, regardless of the technology and process, organisations need to spend time planning, covering:

  • Branding.  Is it clear and easily recognisable among staff, patients, media, stakeholders etc. and chime with the overall strategy?  Are all graphics, images, videos etc on-brand and have a clearly identifiable style that belongs to the organisation?  A brand guardian is needed to ensure the correct use of logos, fonts, typefaces and colours for all scenarios [print, online, email signatures, brochures, letterheads, social media channels, signage, leaflets etc.]
  • Key message development. What does the organisation stand for and how can these key points be included across different comms formats?
  • Inclusion. All marcomms divisions to be represented and involved in the process
  • Process. A clear approval process established that is shared throughout the organisation to ensure better control of messaging, timing, branding, avoids conflict and is joined up
  • Spokespeople. Allocating spokespeople by topic so they become specialists and more trusted
  • Plan. A clear delivery plan is needed that integrates different services and platforms e.g. intranet, website content, direct content, newsletters, email, apps, etc
  • Metrics. Clear measurement and evaluation metrics agreed at the outset
  • Timing & Timeliness. Timetable and how frequent comms are.  For example, weekly comms that are short and easily digested are better than long, monthly comms that can suffer from tl;dr syndrome. Timing is crucial. For example, most people are spent come a Friday afternoon after a busy week and large numbers take Friday off to enjoy long weekends
  • Effectiveness. Consideration needs to be given to engaging as opposed to transmitting in large organisations. A two-way flow of communication that is managed and acted upon has numerous advantages

It is likely that external comms needs to be built into the strategy alongside and closely tied to internal comms, to ensure the interaction with ‘customers’ and stakeholders is equally robust.

References and Sources


Principal author: Simon Hudson