What is the most important thing you will ever do in life? It’s Communicate! Team members who do this well can literally increase their team’s effectiveness. Yet something so simple can be very elusive as well as inconsistent. It is made even more difficult by the speed of technology and the tools we have: Facebook, Twitter, email, texting… all fast, shorthand ways of sending information. If we don’t use the same language or shorthand codes, if we assume the others receiving information can “fill in the gaps”—there is plenty of room for error.

Here is where we can all learn from basic journalism principles. In any given communication, you need to make certain that these questions/facts are clear. It can save a lot of time, money and headaches.

  1. Who – is there an action required of someone? Sometimes, we cc lots of people and it is not clear who the message is being directed toward. Or when you send a request to several people, are you expecting all to respond? Just one person? Make sure this is clear.

  2. What- are you requesting something be done and if so, what is it exactly? Is the message just “fyi” or do you want a response or action?

  3. When- if you are waiting for an answer or if there is something occurring that is time sensitive, you need to make sure the date and time or timeframe is included.

  4. Where- if there is an event or meeting, where is it taking place? You would not believe the amount of time wasted from back and forth emails requesting a location or address.

  5. Why- if it is not clear as to why something is occurring, or why a request for action is being made, make sure to include an explanation. Example: “Please send jpg of company logo.” If a person does not know why you need it and when, the resolution of the file may be wrong for the application and it may not arrive in the time frame that you need. It would be better to state: “Please send high resolution jpg of company logo today. Needed for a trade show booth that is being designed for an event next week.”

  6. How- if you are asking for an action and it is not clear “how” then you need to explain. Example: “Please send copy of company logo today.” What if that person decides to fax you a copy when you are asking for a computer file?

For many reading this, it may seem basic, but EVERYONE forgets to include at least one of the facts most of the time. If it helps, provide your team with a "form" that lists these six items for every team communication. If we just took a moment to make sure our messages are complete and cover the above facts, we would all be much more effective at what we do. Yes, after a “conversation” is started or if you communicate regularly with the same group and have certain facts already established, you can take shortcuts—but when you initiate a communication, start with all the details.