Relationship-focused communication

I’ve always thought that communication involves thinking about relationships. For me, the relationship often comes first: it informs the decisions I make about how and when to communicate.

I frequently find myself making decisions about message content, tone, format, and timing on the basis of what I’m trying to achieve with the relationship. Usually the decisions have something to do with building, maintaining, or enhancing a relationship with my audience or reader.

Most of the time, putting the relationship up front makes good sense. But yesterday I noticed that focusing on the relationship ended up in a communication choice that I wasn’t happy about.

Yesterday, I was asked to sign a petition. The petition was about a topic that I’m not familiar with and have no opinion on, so I wasn’t keen to sign. The person asking me to sign had just been a participant in one of my sessions about workplace writing. There was some insistence behind the request: I was asked three times to sign, with multiple reasons and explanations about why it was a good idea. I gave in and signed the petition. And, while my signature will have no ongoing consequence for me, I’m irritated with myself for giving in when I didn’t really want to. I guess I wanted to be liked!

I think it’s interesting to turn the situation around and explore what it might mean for communicators. As a communicator, it makes me conscious that I need to:

  • Consider the needs and interests of my audience first (ahead of my own)
  • Be careful that I don’t put undue pressure on my audience to conform to my way of thinking
  • Try to recognise when people feel uncomfortable in an encounter
  • Try to consider my efforts to build or enhance the relationship from both my perspective as communicator and from the perspective of my audience
  • Consider whether people are only agreeing with my point because they want to be liked or because they feel that I need some show of support.