As leaders, our words hold power.
What we say and how we say it, whether in tone and inflection or body language, are all interpreted by our audience based on their individual lenses. Regardless of our intent, it is that individual perception that most influences reality.
Every communication has a purpose, from informing to influencing. It could be setting objectives for the year, rallying the troops to meet a key deadline, or announcing organizational change.
No matter the purpose, there are three key messages that must be included, or the overall goal cannot be met. To be successful communicators, leaders must remember “Me We Us.”
Me —> Impact
Before an individual can appreciate organizational objectives or project outcomes, he or she must understand “what does this mean to me?”
Somewhere in the communication, ideally early on, the connection to the individual must be made. Until that happens, the message will not resonate and each one will be distracted, trying to tease out their own impact.
“Will this change my job?” “Will I like this new manager?” “Do I like what’s happening?”
Consider what types of individual questions may arise during the communication. Addressing them early will ensure the audience is engaged and ready to receive the remainder of the message.
As an example, a project team may be behind in delivering a critical objective. To meet the date, the team may need to work late hours for a few weeks. The sooner this need is expressed, the sooner the individual can evaluate the need against his or her own situation and listen to the remainder of the message.
We —> Context
Once individual needs have been addressed, each recipient is poised to understand the broader impact or opportunity. For example, it could be a group objective or project team deliverable.
The “We” content provides the context for the message, looking beyond the individual impact or benefit to the collective team or organization.
In the case of the critical objective referenced earlier, the project manager may share that by working late hours for a few weeks, the collective team can deliver to their customers on time as committed. If the team does not meet the deadline, sharing the impact to the group provides an alternative scenario for each person to consider.
Us —> Connection
It is only after the individual and group tie-in has been made that the audience can look beyond both to the greater good. Creating a compelling vision of the future can inspire individuals to perform at higher levels or otherwise commit themselves to achieving it.
The “Us” content provides the connection and links the individual and the group to something bigger than all of them. It can be at the organization level, state, country or globe, depending on the focus.
In the same project example above, what if the customer delivery may result in a new product in the market that can save lives? Or in a solution that will better protect personal data and minimize risk to tens of thousands?
When the individual impact could be high for a period of time, and the project outcomes may not seem that relevant, a compelling “Us” message can create the impetus necessary to move everyone forward.
A Real Example
Microsoft recently announced the layoff of more than 12,000 employees in a detailed letter.
Considering the “Me We Us” concept, the company attempted to address all three key messages. However, they started with the “Us” component, which goes on for quite some time (845 of over 1,100 words). The “Me” message is buried and limited, creating a perception that “Me” is less important than “Us.”
Since the recipients are being informed that they are no longer part of “Us,” the “Me” and “We” messages are extremely critical. By addressing them as a by-the-way, at the end of the letter, anyone impacted would be likely to think of “Us” as “Them.”
Whatever message the writer was trying to convey to the individual is lost. In fact, by the time the letter concludes, the “Us” vision of the future looks to appeal to stakeholders, as opposed to the affected employees. The perception becomes that they were the real recipients.
Such an outcome may have very well been the intent. However, assuming the writer was actually interested in leaving a relatively positive perception in the minds of the employees (as much as possible during a layoff), the “Me We Us” concept would have resulted in an employee-focused message much sooner in the communication.
In a world where insights and thoughts can be shared immediately across the globe, being cognizant of how our communications may be perceived is more important than ever. Messages will not always be positive, no matter how they are packaged. However, by being aware of the impact to the individual, and tailoring communications accordingly, leaders can turn difficult words into a compassionate and compelling story.
Do you use the “Me We Us” method to communicate impact, establish context and create connection? Do you have another preferred method to ensure messages resonate with the audience? Please share you feedback in the comments and keep the conversation going!