Recently, I was pleased to collaborate on a webinar on the topic of effective communications with my colleague, Vicky Maddison, CEO of Maddison Coaching.  Vicky had posed the question “has the advancement in technology improved our communications?”  We debated whether the explosion in communication channels has been a help or hindrance to us, to our working relationships and mental health.

In thinking about the challenges of communication today, we suggested a number of ideas to help us all cope better and in particular to ensure that our communications are effective.  One idea that can be used as a quick checklist to test if your communication is likely to be successful is the easy acronym, CASTLE. Here’s what it stands for.

Channel – right for everyone?

Before you send out a communication, think about the method or media you are going to use: Does it suit your audience? Does it give the right tone to your message?  Could there be any barriers that might stop your audience getting the message on this channel?

In our webinar, Vicky used the example of her tech-savvy future sister-in-law surprising everyone by sending her Wedding Invitations on a very beautiful and traditional posted invite.  Certainly, it would have reduced the likelihood of ‘undeliverable’ messages, appealed to most people and started to set the tone for her big day.  A good choice of channel.

Accurate – but only as much as it needs to be

Are you a details person or a broad brush-strokes kind of soul? In the workplace, of course, this may depend on your role or the task at hand.  Either way, it’s clear that not everyone else will need or expect the same level of detail as you so, before sending a communication, think about what your audience will need to know.

If you are presenting financial details to a finance team, or sales figures to a sales team, they will probably relish the breakdowns, percentages and analysis.  However, if you were presenting the same data to other colleagues, how much of those details would really be meaningful to them?  Don’t burden people with too many details or data they won’t need; this can become a barrier to the effectiveness of your communication as the important details get lost in the ‘noise’.

Specific – say what you mean

Again, starting with the needs of your audience, think about making sure you give enough specific information so that the message gets through – and can be acted on if required – but not too much to confuse or drown out the key details.

I gave the example of arranging a meeting: if you are inviting colleagues from within your own organisation, it may be enough to tell them that you’ve booked the Boardroom for 11.30am, as they will know exactly where that it.  However, if you are inviting external visitors in, you may need to give your address details, parking information and how to find Reception; you probably don’t even need to tell them it’s in the Boardroom at all.

Timely – fast or slow news?

The obvious example here is, if the building is on fire, we don’t send an email, we sound the alarm!  Clearly, we need to think about how urgent our communication – and any required response is – and act appropriately.

But this does also work the other way too.  If a piece of information is important or useful but not timebound, it is just as helpful to say so in your communication. Rather than picking up the ‘phone, we might put a note on a customer account or ping an email that can be referred back to.

Your communications are going to be much more effective if you can help prioritise information for your audience.  If you mark everything ‘Urgent’, you will soon be compared to the boy who cried wolf.

Language – mind yours.

For some of us, our choice of language could literally be a choice of language; if you work in an international company or have clients who you don’t share a first language with, you may well have to think about that when composing messages.

However, for most of us, what we’re getting at here are things like the tone of voice, phraseology and nuances of language that are picked up in verbal communication but are far less obvious in written communication.  (Although I expect we can all spot a sarcastic email from time to time!).  Ensure that you are adopting an appropriate tone for your audience, using terminology they will understand.  If there is any doubt that a written communication could be misconstrued, maybe it’s better to share the message verbally (or vice versa).

Encourage Response

Traditional models of communication suggest that, to test if communication is effective, you need some form of feedback.  We certainly think that is to be encouraged, although might not always be so for every single message we send.

What we would advise is to think about what kind of response or reaction you are hoping to get from your communication and make that really clear in the message.  In marketing, we’d call it a ‘Call to Action’ and we are taught to make them prominent.  If you need menu choices for the works night out by next Friday, say so; if you just need them to let you know they’ve read your message, say that.

You are far more likely to get the response you want if you actually tell your audience what kind of response you need; there’s no guarantee, but it gives your audience a much better chance.

CASTLE – a communications checklist

We hope you like this simple tool.  We have found it works well both as a personal aide memoire and as a team training tool.  Give your staff some situations where communication is required and ask them to think about how they would like to receive that news, ‘reverse engineering’ CASTLE from the audience perspective.  It certainly makes you think.