Fundamentals of communication

Communication is essential to the success of every startup. Startup teams collaborate in product and engineering conversations, in general management, and in recruiting. Externally, startups sell customers using marketing and sales. Startups also pitch investors during fundraising conversations.

Clearly, great communication makes demands of the audience. But effective communication is challenging.

One of my favorite communication tools is a framework created by management guru Peter Drucker of three fundamentals: perception, expectation and clear demand.

Perception means understanding the audience: their worldview, the language they use, their motivations and their problems. Developing a deep perception of the audience often means listening which takes many forms including market research, the conversations, one-on-one conversations with reports and so on.

Expectation means knowing the frame of mind of the audience - what they expect from a conversation. Violating expectations can be used as a sales technique to change a customer’s frame of mind when evaluating different products. While other PC makers fight a market share war based on price/performance, Apple uses design to change the rules of engagement.

Other times violating expectations can be more challenging, for example, delivering a negative feedback review to an employee with a different perception of his work.

Clear demand is the ask. Once the audience’s perception and expectation are understood, the communicator must understand her own goal of the conversation, eg closing a sale or relaying ideas for how to improve an employee’s performance.

The audience’s perception and expectation must be used to frame the demand for it to be effective. They are the keys to encoding the demand in an effective way.

Frameworks like these can be a bit esoteric. But ultimately, this is a tool to determine the best way to relay a message to an audience by first understanding them well, then determining your goal of the conversation and last by framing the goal using the audience’s language and comparing or contrasting expectations.

Jan 1, 2013

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