Effective Communication: My Four Filters

If you want to be as strategic as possible with your message, it's going to mean learning how to use these four filters. It's work, but it's also the secret to effective communication.

I find this is helpful in a lot of ways, but maybe most especially helpful when I'm choosing what to post on social media — because it helps me think thru consequences.

I'm sure you've witnessed people saying things or writing things that creates some big issue and you think, “How did they not see that coming?”

Well, my four filters are meant to help you anticipate unintended consequences.

It will feel like a lot of work, but you have to trust me that eventually it becomes second nature.

The first filter: Timing

The question I ask isn't if it's good to say or write something, but if this is the best time to say or write it.

Is this the right time?

It's the easiest to answer, of my four filters, because sometimes you know right away that you should wait. A lot of people like to share news about things they're going to start.

I caution them to share things that have been accomplished, rather than their plans. And this pays off if / when they realize they're not going to do what they thought they would.

So timing helps you refrain from speaking or writing too early.

The second filter: Setting

While you may move past the first filter, the second is just as easily answered.

Is this the right setting in which to make this statement?

Sometimes it's a physical room, sometimes it's an event. Sometimes it's a meal, or it's on Twitter. Regardless of the context you find yourself in, you have to figure out if it's the right setting for whatever you have to share.

This is maybe the filter that catches most of my ideas. I have things to say, but I discover the setting isn't the most effective.

And note, the filter isn't just there to stop you from saying anything. It's there to help you think strategically about the setting in general.

Is there a better setting to share this news / info?

As you can imagine, most of the tweets or Facebook posts get killed in this filter. I might have tons of ideas, insights, or information, but it's pretty rare to find that these social media environments are the best for what I have to share.

The third filter: Audience

So far, as you read this, you're likely thinking, these aren't super tricky filters. Well, I never promised you they would be tricky. But they are effective.

Tonight I had a conversation with my wife. A great one. But in it, we covered some serious topics. It created an insight for me and I seriously thought about sharing it publicly. I'm sure it could have helped others.

But for the others it might help, they might be drowned out by the folks that wouldn't be helped, or would be galvanized to repudiate my insight.

Twitter isn't just an “environment” question for me. It's also an “audience” question.

Is this the best audience to share information with?

Sometimes it's yes. A lot of times, it's no. My insight may be helpful for a few folks. Specifically.

One time I was at a dinner with several business folks – some of them were employees, some were partners, and some were clients. I had new news to share. And it would have made us look great.

But the employees at the table deserved to know the information first – so sharing to that audience would have caught them off guard with no way for us to control / manage their reaction.

It will come as no shock, but this filter often translates to one-on-one conversations rather than group communication.

The fourth filter: Unintended Consequence

Now, right away, I can tell you that this is the hardest filter to develop. That's because it requires experience and exposure to things that could go wrong.

It's also just a lot of work.

But the benefits of this filter are massive. The better you get at predicting unintended consequence, the more effective you'll be as a communicator.

The filter requires you to ask:

  • Is there someone who could read / hear this information and do something unexpected?
  • What could that be?
  • What would the results of those actions be?
  • Would someone get hurt by what I share?
  • Is that ok with me?
  • Would someone get angry by what I share?
  • Is that ok with me?
  • Will this communication hurt my chances of something I care about?
  • Is that ok with me?

See, like I said, that's a lot of work. And the older you get, the better you'll be at predictions. If not, at least you'll have crazy stories of unintended consequences to tell.

Effective communication takes work

If there's anything you take away from this post, let it be this: effective communication takes work. It's neither fast nor easy. And it requires that you put energy into it.

It also means that you'll be more “in your head” than before. And honestly, metacognition (thinking about your thinking) is an acquired habit.

But if you begin using these four filters, you'll find that others hear what you want them to, and more importantly, others won't hear (and react) to things you (maybe) shouldn't have ever shared.

If you really want to focus on effective communication, combine it with my email framework!