The {one and only} golden rule of communications?

With the recent launch of Hot Quill, and a brand new year fast approaching, I feel like I’m sitting in front of a clean slate and I figure a back-to-communications-basics blog post is in order. What better topic to write about than “the golden rule” of business communications, right?

Orange quill image from the Hot Quill Communications logoI started doing some research to see if others had already covered this topic (and, by researching I mean Googling). I wasn’t really surprised to find that I wasn’t the first person to consider publishing a “golden rule.” What was surprising (and a little hilarious) was that I found many different accounts of what the golden rule is…or should I say “what the golden rules are.” It appears that there are somewhere between one and twelve golden rules from various sources, and one source even published a complete booklet. Huh??

I feel like I’m missing something. No disrespect to others who have shared their takes on the golden rule since most of what I’ve read makes sense…most, not all. However, I’m pretty sure the original golden rule was singular, not plural: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That was it. Simple and concise.

When we take and apply “golden rule” as a metaphor in other areas, I think of it as a touchstone – something that lays the groundwork for everything else and also serves as a guiding principle. And, it should still be simple and concise…not to mention easy to understand and easily put into practice.

So let me throw what I consider to be the “golden rule” of communications into the fray, and see if you agree with me or not.

In my mind, business communications begin with a need, and the primary and critical rule to follow in satisfying whatever the need is boils down to this: Know your audience. Start with this, let it influence the decisions you make about how, what, when and where to communicate, and it will be very difficult to go wrong…unless you misjudge your audience. The reason I think this stands out as the singular “rule” is that everything else involved in communicating comes after you define an audience and their need to receive information.

What does it mean to really know your audience and how can you avoid making decisions that don’t resonate with them? This: get to know them and be honest with yourself about what you learn, even if it means you need to change direction or plans.

“Knowing your audience” is a process. In very practical terms, it involves spending time with the people you call clients and business partners. Not only will you enrich the content of your communications and be able to tailor your plans and key messages to your audience, but you’ll also open up the lines of communication so that your audience will be even more receptive to any ideas or information that they need to be aware of. (Note: There is a clear difference between what they need to be aware of and what you want them to know, and this will become evident as you get to know whoever you’re communicating with).

We are starting to tread on “relationship management” territory and I’d like to stop here before we get too far away from the original intent of this post. So, do you agree with my golden rule? Or, do you have your own rule for focusing your communications efforts? I’d love to hear from you and invite you to share your comments below. Also, please feel free to like this post, and share it with anyone you think would be interested in reading and/or discussing this topic.

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