Y’all, I remember a miscommunication spat so bad that I, as a cub producer, told a senior leader — in her own office — “You’re not my boss, right? Right, so I’m not hearing you.” Um… what??? Yes, I really did. *facepalm emoji* So young was that Sam. 

Looking back, it was clear that our different priorities were necessary for the same product launch. If only I’d taken a beat, put on some “care” and considered where she was coming from, I would have saved myself from stunting a relationship needed for my growth. 

This week’s leadership challenge aims to keep you from a similar experience and encourages you to reset your communication style by centering the needs, the goals or the motivations of the person you need support from. Let’s go.

The challenge: 

Have you had to explain what you do in the newsroom — repeatedly? Have you been misunderstood in editorial or business development meetings? Is there someone in your shop who it is impossible to see eye-to-eye with? Are you fully annoyed by a clearly fixable problem? Do you have an idea but work for a “default to no” kind of manager? Do you feel at home on the margins and among wolves in the mainstream? Are you running a new team or occupying a role that never existed before? Do you need to share a new business goal, or restructure a team?

There are some common missteps we make that stand in the way of communicating effectively and strategically, especially when it comes to getting buy-in, such as assuming everyone is thinking what (or how) you’re thinking; feeling time-crunched, or fearing a disagreement. After you have navigated these hurdles, you’re ready to translate your message.

The assignment: Message in translation 

Just like journalists need to think about their external audiences, leaders — both those with positional authority and those with influence — need to think about their internal audiences: What do they care about?

Remember: Everyone we work with is motivated by something different (collaboration, revenue, diversity, progress, risk, connection, growth, etc.). When you need to get support or buy-in, or when you want specific, actionable feedback on your priorities or ideas, translate your message into something that is easy for your audience (your stakeholders) to understand and care about. Lara Hogan discusses this more in her book Resilient Management.

To communicate a message that resonates with your stakeholders, include: 

  • Why people should care — Relevance
  • What your single, key point is — Conciseness
  • What two to three easons support that key point — Rationale 

Get it done:

  • The goal: Translate a message that is important to you in a way that echos what motivates someone else or what they are optimizing for 
  • How to: (the table below may help organize your thoughts)
    • Pick your message (select one): Think about 1) something you need buy-in for, 2) something you feel is misunderstood about your work, or 3) something you want someone at work to be equally excited by or frustrated with. In an old-school tweet, write down that message — for you. 


    • Now, name your stakeholders: Who is the person (or people) you need to influence? Who do you want to hear things your way? Your boss? A colleague? Someone in marketing, business development or product?
    • Name your stakeholders’ motivations: What is each stakeholder optimizing for? Revenue, engagement, creativity, failure, efficiency, collaboration?
    • Translate your message: Write your message for each stakeholder, in their language and with their motivations at the heart of the message. Remember to be relevant, concise and reasoned. (You may have 3 or 4 different translations.)

Message in Translation table

Congrats! You’ve just completed one of the best things you can do for someone at work. You’ve provided clarity around what you need, but instead of the “why” being yours, the why is the person you’re influencing and need the support of. Always remember: Clarity is kindness. 

Take it further:

Do you need to edit your language for words that dull your presence, quiet your confidence and disqualify your expertise?

Now that you’ve translated your message, you may want to share it, out loud, with the stakeholders you listed above, which means the final step in translating your message is giving it a dose of self-confidence. Both your words and your body language should take up valuable space in the room because you, and what you have to add, are valuable. 

This means getting rid of qualifiers like “actually,” “quickly” and “just.” — You don’t “actually have an idea.” You have an idea. You don’t “just think this or that.” You think this or that. You don’t have a “quick question.” You have a question. 

  • “Just” demeans what you have to say. It shrinks your power and influence. 
  • “Actually” communicates a sense of surprise that you have something to contribute. 
  • “Quickly” assumes by default you’re imposing on others. 

I have found that, over time, you become fluent in this sort of professional translation. Eventually, without writing down your translated message, it comes quite naturally to communicate in the language and to the business priorities of those you work with.

View the next challenge here.

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  • For many newsrooms, changing the systems that protect unhealthy culture could be a few sustained decisions away from reality.