Why making it about them is the key to outstanding communication

Have you been to the September 11 Memorial in New York? It’s a powerful and moving experience and you can’t fail to be struck by the enormous blue art installation that sits at the museum's core.

Trying to remember the colour of the sky on that September morning is made up of nearly 3000 individual pieces of artwork, each a different shade of blue. Every piece represents a life lost on September 11 and in associated tragedies.

Looking at the mass of blue, your eyes trick you into assuming some of the panels are the same shade. In fact, artist Spencer Finch went to scientific lengths to ensure each one has its own specific tint.

It's impossible not to feel the poignancy of the message. Each piece of blue symbolises a precious individual, with characteristics specific to them. It reminded me how easy it is to mistakenly assume everyone around us thinks, feels, communicates and acts the same way we do.

When you're working to a deadline, snowed under with emails or rushing to a meeting, it’s important to remember not everyone receives and processes information in exactly the same way. Exceptional communicators recognise every piece of communication - whether it’s a simple text or a complex report - is being consumed by someone who’s a different shade to them.

There are plenty of profiling models, like DISC and HBDI, that help to sharpen awareness about people's different styles. The September 11 artwork is a simple reminder that, while we share many things in common, every person is unique. Outstanding communication is about people; making your message about them - right where they are - and not about you. 

As social commentator Hugh Mackay put it; “It is the message people take away, not the message we send, that determines our success as a communicator."

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