News & Events

The Medium as the Message

Jun 30, 2017

One of our Leadership Akron Alumni, Dr. Steve Ash of The University of Akron College of Business, notes that the act of leadership consists of two basic activities: communications and decision-making. Thus, decision-making about communication is worthy of careful thought for effective leaders—it involves both of these twin dimensions. The most successful leaders are concise and direct communicators: they boil complicated matters into a simply articulated message that reflects their values and priorities. In addition to what they communicate, effective leaders make good decisions about how to communicate. As the classic communications adage goes, the medium can matter as much as the message.

The medium we choose frames the message we send; it’s the vessel that carries the precious cargo of our message to its destination. When I saw a Facebook post recently about the merits of sending wedding invitations via Eventbrite, I was reminded about how the medium can affect the message. I am not here to cast judgment on anyone for sending wedding invitations electronically; nor for issuing snail-mail invitations that are neither efficient nor eco-friendly. The range of reactions to the post illustrate the trade-offs we face in weighing the importance of the communication with the convenience of the sender and recipients.

Consider the hand-written note, which has become the gold standard in an age fraught with blast e-mails and group texts. Why? In this medium, the sender is sending an implicit message: “You’re worth taking the time to write this, and putting it in the mail, when I could have sent an e-mail. The perspective I’m expressing is worth the time and trouble it takes to write this out.” The hand-written note exemplifies how the currency of the medium affects the message, something we see across many communications channels. In taking the time to frame questions or agendas ahead of a meeting, we’re noting the importance of the conversation. In scheduling a meeting instead of a teleconference or e-mail update, we’re saying this is important enough to show up in person. In using correct grammar and language, we’re saying it’s worth taking care to avoid sloppiness (though sometimes I wonder if the writer knows the difference). In making a call instead of sending an e-mail, we’re saying this is worth talking through, person-to-person in real time, so I can be sure to respond to your questions and hear your perspective instead of sending an e-mail at my convenience.

We still send e-mail blasts, and post to social media. It’s not that these tools hold no value. Sometimes a timely text or a tweet can signal to someone that you’re paying attention and you appreciate their work. Sometimes an audience wants you to make it as easy as possible to respond to a more transactional but worthwhile opportunity. But as our habits form around the tools we use most often, sometimes they can become overused. I’ve seen situations where a nonprofit sees little response to an e-blast, and the solution is to send more frequent e-blasts to the same audience (insert definition of insanity here). I’ve been in a situation where someone assumed I knew something they were up to because they had tweeted about it. Both of these examples illustrate the dangers in assuming that, as we use the medium that’s most habitual or convenient for us, our intended audience will be on the same wavelength.

The best leaders will use all the tools, old and new, to communicate with thoughtfulness not only about what they are communicating, but how. Being considerate in communications not only makes your messages stand out, it builds trust with the audience, winning credibility and confidence, and as a result, more opportunities to earn listeners/readers. As participants in our Fall Community Leadership Institute explore principles and practices of community leadership, they learn from some of our community’s best about how they carefully approach communication and relationship-building as they lead change. These insights bear fruit in both community and professional settings, positioning our CLI grads to become more well-rounded, more collaborative leaders. If you know of individuals that would benefit from an experience like this, now is the time to plug them into what will be a one-of-a-kind learning opportunity this fall. 

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