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Will you please listen to me, how many times I have to say this!


 This is probably a familiar refrain to any parent - I found myself saying this to my children this very weekend. Perhaps children have always been poor listeners where their parents are concerned but it’s also an interesting question for managers - how many times should you have to say something to your peers, colleagues and staff so they actually listen, understand and respond in the way you want them to?

In the miasma of modern communication, (email, instant messaging, text, skype, etc, etc.) how do you  make your message, your request, your requirement heard ? The answer apparently is repetition, repetition, repetition! Orators and public speakers have long known that subtle repetition of your key message is the way to be memorable and to influence your audience.  Advertisers too, know the value of repetition. Their statistics show that we typically need to see or hear an advert 8 times before we remember a brand name, much less what it is or does.

In business however I frequently hear managers saying in an exasperated voice,  "I don’t understand why it hasn’t happened; I told them to do it".  Many seem to think that telling people, issuing an instruction or request ought to be enough to get things done. “Why don’t people just do as they are asked, it’s so tiring and wasteful to have to repeat yourself all the time”.  Well perhaps it is, perhaps people should respond first time but the reality is, they don’t. People in business are drowning in data, information, demands, requests and instructions. The few I come across that are not working 60 + hour weeks and handling 100+ emails a day and constant phone calls are the lucky few, the exception to the rule. Most people I encounter are, to a greater or lesser extent, swamped. Against this backdrop it’s not really surprising that people often don’t respond to requests and instructions as well or as promptly as would be ideal.

SO, if you want to be effective you need to work with this reality rather than fight it or rail against it not being “right”.  Some interesting research has recently shown that often managers who work with a virtual team, i.e. with people who don’t actually report to them but work in some form of matrix structure  are frequently more effective than line managers at getting things done. The reason? because whereas line managers have an expectation that when they ask for something it will be done by their subordinates, managers working in a matrix structure don’t have these expectations and hence they make a much greater effort when it comes to communication. They proactively plan to communicate a message several times in several different ways. They recognise that to get things done it’s not just about clarity of message but also about making your presence felt. They know that one request won’t be enough so typically they might send an email and follow it up by a call or meeting and then follow it up again. Although line managers, especially senior managers can command more attention from their subordinates, the truth is that even they need to “over communicate”. The research suggests that this multiple communication approach is the way to be effective in 21st century business.

So how do you communicate for maximum effectiveness?

You might not like it, it might seem counter intuitive but the research suggests you need to expect to have to communicate one message / communication several times using different channels and different media if you want to guarantee an effective response.

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