Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Mysteries or Headlines?

When you're talking to your boss about a project at work, do you favor mysteries or headlines?

  • If you favor mysteries, you're likely to lay out all the twists and turns you took along the way BEFORE giving the bottom line. It's your way of framing the discussion, of putting things in context so that your conclusion makes sense.
  • If you favor headlines, though, you're more likely to lead with your conclusion and then substantiate how you got there, if need be.

A lot of (most?) people like to give their status reports in mystery format. And they can be quite engaging in doing so. The thing is, though, that not everyone has the time to listen to - or fully appreciate - all of that detail. Often times the boss just wants to know just one thing:

"Are we okay, or not?"

For people like that, the headline approach is far superior. They need to hear what they want to know up front - not eventually, not soon, but, first ... as in before anything else. Could they loosen up a bit? Probably. But the thing is that until they know what they need to know, they not listening to what you're saying anyway - they're just wondering how long you're going to go on until you get to the bottom line. And they're probably getting more and more impatient with you as time passes.

So the next time you have a status report to give, ask the person if they want the headlines first. Maybe they do and maybe they don't. But knowing that little bit of information can really sharpen your ability to communicate in a way that maximizes your positive impact.

Isn't that what you've been striving for?

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