Planning a Communication

Cite this article as:"Planning a Communication," in The Business Professor, updated October 4, 2019, last accessed July 7, 2020,

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Planning the Written and Spoken Message

  • Determining the Purpose and Channel
  • Envisioning the Audience
  • Adapting the Message to the Audience (Ethic, Point of View, etc.)
  • Organizing the Message

Determining the Purpose and Channel

This step is broken down into two undertakings:

  • What – Understand the content (what) you want to say, and
  • Why – Understand the purpose (why) you want to say.

“What” is the substantive material in the message. I suggest make a list of points you wish to convey in the message. (This will help you develop the substantive content.) Remember: Your substantive material will change depending upon the purpose of the message. (i.e., it will require elaborating or leaving out particular details and content.) This step is where you weed out the tendency to ramble on. It also allows you to craft a constructive manner of presenting your information.

“Why” is the purpose or effect that you hope to achieve via your message? If you are trying to persuade someone, that is a different purpose than simply informing someone of the facts at hand. Remember: The purpose of your message will help you develop and organize the substantive information that you wish to include or leave out of the message. For example, think back on Informative message vs. Persuasive Messages. Note the competing purposes here. Try to imagine situations in your own past where you related information to someone. Information messages are common in both personal and professional communications. They are more common than persuasive message when dealing with superiors and inferiors in the business organization. Now compare that to a situation where you were trying to convince someone of something. Persuasive messages are often more common with colleagues or individuals on the same authoritative level as you.

Either will require understanding your audience. Some things you should seek to understand include:

  • What is their background knowledge?
  • How familiar are they with the situation or their individual knowledge base of the subject-matter?
  • What is their viewpoint or inclination about the subject?
  • Can you identify an obvious or latent predisposition that they have toward the subject-matter?

Select the channel where the receiver will best understand your message. You channel selection should be based on:

  • Characteristics you know about the listener,
  • Nature and location of the audience,
  • Formality and content of the message,
  • The need for feedback, written record, or privacy.

Envisioning the Audience

Perception is how we see others and the world around us. Given a situation, each individual will perceive the situation or experience slightly differently. How we perceive any situation is affected by our knowledge, prior experiences, attitudes, etc. Generally, everything that goes into developing our personality affects our perception of new information. In communications, our perception is limited by our previous experiences and our attitudes toward the sender of the message. Basically, whatever you know about your audience affects how you will deliver a message to them. Think of the difference in how you would speak to a the following groups:

  • Manual laborers vs. aeronautical engineers
  • Family Members vs. Strangers
  • High School Students vs. MBA students

The above comparisons should highlight that you change your message or manner of delivering a message depending upon your perception of the audience.

Purpose of Envisioning the Audience

Establishes rapport and credibility needed to build long-lasting personal and business relationships. Permits you to address the receiver’s needs and concerns. Simplifies the task of organizing your message. You can reasonably predict receiver’s reaction to various types of message.

Communication most often breaks down because we perceive the information from our own viewpoint. This is commonly called “tunnel vision”. Individuals believe that everyone perceives information in the same way and simply choose to respond to that information differently based upon a conscious decision. In reality, individuals receive and are affected differently by the same information. A good exercise is to try to put yourself in another person’s shoes in receiving information. This is difficult because, to effectively do so, you must have a strong understanding of the other person’s background and experiences. Most commonly, problems arise because of variation between team members about the importance or significance of a task or responsibility. Think of work groups you have been a part of in the past. Have you ever had an issue with one member of the group not dedicating time or efforts to a given task that you believed was important? Overcoming the perceptual barriers is important to craft messages that meet the needs and concerns of the receiver(s). Overcoming perception bias is the subject of “mindfulness” studies in communications.

When envisioning the audience, focus on the information you know about the receiver. Background characteristics that are important:

  • Age
  • Economic Level
  • Educational or Occupational background
  • Needs and concerns of the receiver
  • Culture
  • Rapport
  • Expectations
  • Take note of any previous reactions by the listener or audience to similar situations or information.

How do you envision the audience you don’t know?

Envisioning an audience you know is often done without knowledge or consciousness that you are doing it. This is a result of the subconscious aspects of your interpersonal intelligence. Envisioning the audience you don’t know (i.e., with whom you don’t have significant dealings) requires effort. Basically, you have to rely on your primary observations. In some cases you will rely on heuristics and stereotypes of people. This can be both helpful and harmful in situations.

A good technique is to use empathy (associate your own feelings, perceptions, etc, as theirs). Project mentally how you believe you would feel or react in a similar situation and use that info to communicate understanding back to the person.

Adapting the Message to the Audience (Ethic, Point of View, etc.)

Objective – Adapt the message to meet the specific needs of audience. Remember, this is the subject of advertising. You are trying to make certain the message is effectively received by the recipient.

Focus on the Receiver’s Point of View – Ideas a more interesting and appealing if expressed from receiver’s viewpoint. Developing a “you attitude” rather than a “me attitude”. When scoping the message, try to address the receiver’s potential questions, curiosities, concerns, etc. Make the message about them, not about the average person. Avoid “I” and try to scope message in form of “you” to personalize the message. Compliments (words of praise) are another effective way of increasing a receiver’s receptiveness to ideas that follow. Be truthful in comments and avoid flattery. Insincerity breads suspicion in motives.

Scope a Your Attitude – Ask the following questions. Does the message address the receiver’s major needs and concerns? Would the receiver feel this message is receiver centered Will the receiver perceiver the ideas to be fair, logical, and ethical? Are ideas expressed clearly and concisely? Does the message promote positive business relationship – even when the message is negative? Is the message sent promptly and through the preferred channel to indicate courtesy? Does the message reflect the high standard of a business professional: accurate appealing document design, quality printing, and absence of misspelling and grammatical errors?

Communicate Ethically and Responsibly – Use communication to uphold your personal values and your company’s standards of ethical conduct. Be careful with any message that could be taken as skirting the rules or not following procedures. Before speaking or writing, use the following guidelines to help you communicate ethically and responsibly. Is the information stated as truthfully, honestly, and fairly as possible? Sending complete, accurate, and timely information regardless of whether it support your interest will help you build credibility. Does the message embellish or exaggerate the facts? Legal guidelines restrict fraud and misrepresentation. Overstating product or service abilities is not good for long-run business or personal brand. Are the ideas expressed clearly and understandably? Ethical communicators select words that convey the exact meaning intended and that are within the reader’s vocabulary. Ex. Plain English Laws. Is your viewpoint supported with objective facts? Free of conflict of interest? Opinions distinguished from fact? Facts accurately documented and cited? Are ideas stated with tact and consideration that preserves the receiver’s self-worth? Thank about disrespectful language, libel, slander, and disparagement. Are graphics carefully designed to avoid distorting facts and relationships? Misleading graphics result either from the developers’ deliberate attempt to confuse the audience from their lack of expertise in constructing ethical graphics.

Build and protect Goodwill – Goodwill arises when a business is worth more than its tangible assets. Basically, this involves the value attributed to the business’ earning potential that exceeds the liquidation (sale) value of its assets. Insensitive message – internal and external – can offend and alienate and will diminish a company’s good will. Much of a company’s goodwill comes in the form of on-going business relationships that have the possibility of adding economic value to the firm. Alienating a client/customer could damage this value.

Tone – This is the way a statement sounds and conveys the writer’s or speaker’ attitude toward the message and the receiver. Make certain that your tone is consistent with the level of formality required of the situation.

Use Euphemisms Cautiously – Euphemism is a kind word substitute for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant, as known as “Sugar-coating” Avoid excessive euphemisms and those containing sarcasm. Avoid “Doublespeak” or “Corporate Talk” These are Euphemisms that mislead, hide, or evade the truth. Learn to develop clear, concise message that clarify ideas and provide direction to recipients regardless of their culture while enhancing your credibility as an honest communicator.

Avoid Condescending or Demeaning Expressions – “Talking Down” to someone; “Patronizing” Dysphemism (demeaning expression) Ex. Bean counter, ambulance chasers. Effective communicators choose respectful expression that build and protect goodwill.

Use Connotative Tone Cautiously – Denotative Meaning – the literal meaning of a word that most people would assign to it. Connotative Meaning – The literal meaning, plus an extra message that reveals the speaker’s or writer’s qualitative judgment. Ex. The professor “harped on” this point the entire class. Ex. The professor lectured on this point the entire class. Rely mainly on denotative or connotative words that will be interpreted in a positive manner. Connotative words are more easily misinterpreted than denotative words. Appropriateness of connotations varies with the audience to which it is addressed and the context in which they appear.

Use Specific Language Appropriately – Select words that paint and produce an image in the mind of the receiver – it adds energy and creativity to your message. (More Specific). Ex. Congratulations on “your honor” vs. “Being named employee of the month.” Sometimes more general statement can protect goodwill by keeping negative ideas from being emphasized. Stock prices “fell” vs. “dropped over 10%.”

Use Bias-Free Language – Language that does not exclude, stereotype, or offend other permits them to focus on your message rather than question your sensitivity. Avoiding Gender Bias – Avoiding stereotyping men and women in roles and occupations: Avoid using “he” as a blanket pronoun. Use occupational titles that reflect genuine sensitivity to gender. (Salesman vs. Salesperson). Avoid designating an occupation by Gender – Woman doctor; hostess. Avoid expressions perceived as gender-biased. Man-made, man-hours, etc.

Avoid Racial and Ethnic Bias – Sometimes we use phrases that we don’t realize demonstrate an ethic bias. For example, The Chinese Clerk or Irish temper show an ethnic bias. Avoid Age Bias. Simply saying, John, 55 year old VP, to introduce someone shows a bias toward age. Avoid Disability Bias. Judgmental connotations, such as using words like Typical or. Normal to refer to someone’s liability.

Use Contemporary Language – Eliminate outdated expressions and cliches. Push the envelope, skin in the game, is what it is, Cover all the bases, that sucks. Original expressions convey sincerity and build strong human relations.

Curb Profanity – It can be perceived as rude or classless. Also, there are potential business liabilities and legal implications.

Use Simple Informal Words – Business writers prefer simple, informal words that are readily understood and less distracting than more difficult, formal words. Avoid using long, infrequently used words when a simpler, more common word conveys the same idea. Avoid jargon, outside of your relevant industry. Remember, the purpose is to deliver a clear and tactful message, not to show your knowledge of uncommonly used words.

Communicate Concisely – Concise communication is including all relevant detail in the fewest possible words. “If I had more time I would have written you a shorter letter.” Attachments, long paragraphs, Exec Summary. Eliminate Redundancy – A phrase in which one word unnecessarily repeats an idea contained in an accompanying word. “Absolutely necessary” or “final outcome” or “close proximity” Use active voice to reduce the number of words. Review the main purpose of your writing and identify relevant details needed for the receiver to understand and take necessary action. Less can be more. Eliminate clichés that are often wordy and not necessary to understand the message. Do not restate ideas that are sufficiently implied. “She took the internet marketing course and passed it,” or “She passed the marketing course.” Shorten sentences by using suffixes or prefixes, making changes in word form, or substituting precise words or phrases. He/she instead of repeating the person’s name. Once you have been descriptive of an item or situation, you don’t have to continue to use the adjective from there forward. The situation was awkward. After ten minutes of conversion, I could wait for the awkward situation to end. Use a compound adjective. Can reduce the number of words required to express your ideas. Examples: “The café will begin serving breakfast all day on July 1”, or “The cafe’s all-day breakfast begins on July 1”.

Project a positive tactful tone – Being adept at communicating negative information gives you the ability to handle sensitive situations in a positive, constructive manner. State ideas using positive language. Rely mainly on positive words and on what can be done rather than what cannot. Using a negative word as point of contrast can add emphasis. Avoid Using Second Person when stating negative ideas. “You made numerous mistakes” is more harsh than, “This article contains numerous mistakes. Use passive voice to convey negative ideas. You failed to turn in the homework on time is more harsh that, “the homework wasn’t turned in on time”. Use the subjunctive mood. It speaks of a wish, necessity, doubt, or condition contrary to fact and use such conditional expressions. For example, “if it were my decision, we would not have to let you go.” Subjunctive mood often includes a reason that makes the negative idea seem less objectionable. Include a pleasant statement in the same sentence. “If style were a consideration, you would have easily won the match.”

Organizing the Message

The message should be organized in a way that a proper sequence is followed. The arrangement should be made in such a way that both the sender and recipient benefit from it. Outlining becomes relevant here. This can be done by specifying certain parts as items of importance while the others can be an adjunct to it.

Outlines have a number of perks such as encouraging faultlessness and crispness in a message. It also allows one phrase or one part to get all the attention at any point of time. It also usually takes up less time in organizing the ideas and makes the ground for a mental boost. It also paves the way for emphasis and de-emphasis.

The ideas need to be sequenced properly to have a desired effect. The first question that needs to be taken into consideration is the central agenda of the message that is to be conveyed. Another question that has to be kept in mind is how the receiver will respond to such things. Once the reaction of the viewers is anticipated, the focus should be laid on whether to put an idea in the beginning or towards the end of the items list.

Deductive reasoning is considered when the message begins with a more important idea and the sequence that follows thereafter and how it pleases the recipients. Inductive reasoning is concerned with the question when the message will add to the dissatisfaction of the receiver. In an inductive message, the sequence follows in a pattern when the major concept or idea is not adequately expressed or talked about. If the sender seeks involvement from the recipient, it is advisable to use inductive method while it often happens that the recipient might get perturbed by the central idea, thereby, turning the nature of the message into inductive.

Determining sequence for minor ideas that accompany the major idea:

  • Time – When email is about events or a process, paragraphs proceed from first step to last step.
  • Space – If the report regards geographic areas, you can proceed from one area to the next.
  • Familiarity – If a point is complicated or unknown, it may be beneficial to proceed from the known point.
  • Importance – Proceed in a progression of most to least important or vice versa.
  • Value – If presentation involves presentation with monetary values, proceed from greatest to least or vice versa.

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