Achieve agreement: six words work wonders

Create clarity – use a helicopter view

In communication terms, clarity is everything. Most of the time, this means explaining the implications of something rather than the details. However, when you work with data, it’s easy to lose sight of the implications – and who doesn’t work with data these days?

If you can’t see the wood for the trees, so to speak, how can you explain the big picture? It’s impossible to achieve buy-in like this. Why would someone agree with your way of thinking, if your way of thinking is cloudy or unclear? These days, we have so much information flying at us from all angles that it’s naïve to assume people have the time or willingness to figure out what you actually mean. You need to hit them with it right up front.

Many senior executives fail to convey successful messages because they are stuck firmly at the level of grassroots information, rather than using a broad, “helicopter” view to assess the situation.

It can be extremely difficult to know if you’re stuck in the grass, however. While you may think you’re being perfectly clear and not overly detailed, your audience might see things differently. When this happens, it is very hard for your messages to land successfully. It often takes an outside expert to point out that you’re not exactly presenting a great argument. You can only work to strengthen your reasoning once you recognise what you’re missing.

The big picture promotes greater buy-in

The trick is to step outside the day-to-day details and analyse subjects and situations from a higher-level perspective. In other words, adopt that all-important helicopter view (also known as a 10,000 foot view, breadth of vision and/or clarity of purpose).

You will probably need to distance yourself from the subject or situation. Think of it as stepping back to admire an Impressionist painting. The individual brush strokes, while necessary, only make sense when viewed as part of the overall picture.

Be aware, however, that while stepping back is a simple concept, it is often very hard to achieve without training and lots of practice.

Brief stories make all the difference

The six word message is a great tool to help you to achieve a helicopter view. This principle is based on flash fiction: extraordinarily short ‘novels’ that hint at a more extensive back story.

The most-quoted example of the six word story genre is attributed to Ernest Hemingway, although there is no evidence to suggest he actually wrote it. It relates to a newspaper advert:

• “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Those six words make you think, don’t they? Why were baby shoes for sale? Why were they unworn? Did the baby just have too many shoes, or is the story much deeper, veering into sadness? This six word story makes us think far beyond the few words supplied and leaves us to imagine our own version of the hidden back story. Importantly, it grips us and makes us want to hear more.

The six word story has become somewhat of a trend, and the internet abounds with six word stories. There is even a six word memoirs site, with ‘tales’ like these:

• “Business hours don’t apply right now”
• “The illusion of productivity is satisfying”
• “Writing is talking in sign language”
• “Fearlessness is the mother of invention”
• “Corporate language masks some rotten intent”

Condense your messages for successful outcomes

In today’s fast-paced world it is an absolute necessity to get to the point quickly, and the practice of miniaturising messages is increasingly popular. Modern audiences like short messages. In fact, today’s audiences need short messages as they sift through an incredible amount of information on an almost constant basis.

In her book, Impossible to Ignore, the cognitive neuroscientist, Carmen Simon, describes how “brevity is advantageous because it gets attention and sustains it since there is not much to absorb. It also creates a feeling of mastery and completion, which generates positive emotions”.

While a six word message can be powerful, it might not achieve agreement by itself. What it will do, however, is force you to take that vital helicopter view, enabling you to shape a brief key message that works. To continue the helicopter metaphor, a message that ‘lands’.

You should start every communication with your key message. This grabs attention immediately and makes stakeholders recognise the importance of what you are about to tell them.

You don’t have to state your aim in six words only, but if you use the six word message as an exercise to support key message creation, this will certainly help you communicate with brevity.

Achieve agreement through implications, not details

The six word message is equally applicable for written and spoken communications. Take this post as an example. The details involve why and how to take a helicopter view of a subject. Yet the title – the first thing you read – does not mention helicopters. Instead, it conveys the implications of the advice to step back and find the message. It hints that a mini-message can attain buy-in: “Achieve agreement: six words work wonders”.

If you’ve read this far, you’ll realise that you were originally drawn in by that six word title. Why? Because you’re on a ‘what’s in it for me’ wavelength, like every other human on the planet. As a senior executive, you know it’s important to achieve agreement from various stakeholders and the title suggests how you will benefit by reading the full post. In other words, those six words told you that ‘reading this will help you understand how to use a short message to get buy-in’.

If you take away just one (short) message today, let it be this: great things come in small packages. Think big, while keeping it brief.

Do reach out to learn more.