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How to setup a game you can win when communicating


I was working with an organisation a few years ago and was asked if I could sit in on a meeting. I was told that a group were trying to implement a strategy that was extremely challenging, and could be met with massive resistance. This had the potential to have huge implications if it wasn’t implemented and communicated effectively. I said sure and joined the group.


For 45 minutes I listened to the team describe the problem in multiple ways and try to develop strategies to mitigate worse case scenarios. Finally someone asked:


Jim: “Mark, what do you think?”


Mark: “What is the outcome you are looking for?”


Jim: “I guess we want to make this change without causing chaos.”


Mark: “Tell me, what does a great outcome look like?”


Jim: “Um, I’m not sure”


It was clear that neither Jim nor anyone in the group had thought about this. The group were so caught up in what could go wrong – and there was plenty that could go wrong – that they hadn’t spent any time thinking about how they could to make it go right.


Most communication efforts fail before they even begin because they are not setup for success. In order to setup a game you can win, there are 5 critical things you can do:


  1. Be prepared

It may sound obvious, but we have all been in a situation where we go to communicate and the equipment doesn’t work, we haven’t downloaded the content or we haven’t prepared the audience. Good communication is not an accident, and making sure you are properly prepared is the first step to setting up a game you can win.


  1. Understand the communication

Often people are relaying communication that they may not own, yet they are expected to engage audiences in it. In preparing to share your communication it is critical that you have reviewed it, asked any necessary questions and that you know the topic well enough to speak with credibility about it.


  1. Know the desired outcome

Particularly when sharing challenging communications it is very easy to focus on how to prevent a negative reaction. However, focusing on the negative will often create a negative outcome. It is important to have clarity on what a great outcome looks like, how you want your message to be received, what you want your audience to take away. This will sharpen your focus and help you guide your audience to that outcome.


  1. Have a strategy to achieve it

Once you know the outcome you want to create, you can begin to develop a plan to achieve it. Think about the space you are going to use and if it is appropriate. How you want your audience to sit in that space. How you will deliver the content and how you will engage your audience in it. In doing this you can create the environment for a great outcome.


  1. Enlist support beforehand

We often prepare for the audience members that we fear will be most challenging, how to limit their impact. Instead, think about which people are already on board or those that will have the biggest influence on the group. Reach out to them beforehand and get their support. This will mean that you already have support in the room and will make it much easier to engage the other members of your audience.


By focusing on trying to avoid the problem, Jim and his team were unconsciously setting themselves up to fail. By shifting focus to what a great outcome would look like, the team immediately began moving toward practical solutions. By asking better questions they were able to come up with a great strategy and leverage the people that already supported the initiative. In doing this, they were able to setup a game they could win, and not only managed to implement the change effectively, but also gained the support of the audiences they were most concerned about.


By employing these five techniques before you communicate, you will not only setup a game you can win, but you just might achieve outcomes you could never have imagined.