Five Levels of Communication to Improve Understanding

Communicating effectively with family and friends is incredibly difficult as we all know. When it comes to a leader trying to communicate with their team, it seems to become exponentially more difficult!

At one point in my career, I was the chief of staff for a very intelligent CEO. He is one of those people who seems to have an idea a minute and thinks out loud. The problem for his directors was that they often did not know if he was giving them direction, asking them for their opinions, or just expressing an idea. One of my roles as chief of staff was to “interpret” messages sent between the directors and the CEO. Many times I would walk into the CEO’s office and say something along the line of “Chris is beginning to implement XYZ that you discussed the other day in your office—is that really what you want to do?” Often the CEO would look at me a bit confused because he did not even remember what he had said; he had no intention for Chris to do anything at all. At other times, I would have to go to a director’s office and tell them that the CEO really did want them to follow through on what he said and that it wasn’t just an idea. As you can imagine, things got a bit confused at times, which often resulted in wasted effort and unnecessary frustration.

Fortunately, we had a relationship with the company Ambassador Enterprises, LLC, which has a brilliant CEO who also seems to have an idea a minute. The difference is that they have developed a powerful tool to clarify their communications, which has greatly improved their effectiveness. That tool is called “The Five Levels of Communication.”

Level 1—An Idea. Throw an idea into the hopper; no action required.

Level 2—A Suggestion. The leader has thought about an idea and would like you to think about it as well.

Level 3—A Recommendation. The leader has thought about the idea a good bit and wants you to consider implementing it unless there is a good reason not to do so. A recommendation may be appealed.

Level 4—A Directive. As it suggests, the leader wants action taken unless there is a compelling reason not to do so. A directive may be appealed.

Level 5—A Mandate. This is the equivalent of the house is on fire and get out. No questions, no appeal—just do it. This is very rarely used.

When we implemented this system, or way of talking, at our organization, the level of misunderstanding was greatly lowered. I use this approach often now and always to a good result.

It is vital that leaders communicate clearly to their teams. Using this framework, this way of talking, will greatly help achieve that needed clarity. The result is more effective teams and a more effective organization.

BG Allen
Executive Coach

“Beware of Perception Gaps”

3 simple keys to effective communication

3 simple keys to effective communication (1)

what do you seek – agreement or disagreement?

Crepe myrtleGood Monday morning to you! Our family has been down South for a wedding and to visit family which is one reason for no posts over this last week. It was a great time and a good deal warmer than up here in the Midwest!!

Communication is tricky and difficult at best. I know you are well aware of how difficult it is to truly communicate with others. The more I think about the issue, the more amazed I am that we succeed at all!

There is one aspect of communication that we often don’t think about and that is in seeking agreement vs. disagreement. So often as we discuss issues, especially complex ones, we begin with how we disagree with the one to whom we are speaking. Try something different the next time you are in one of these conversations – try to find the places where you agree and use those points of agreement as a platform for better understanding of one another. As someone has said – “seek to understand before seeking to be understood”. (Covey I think)

Today, seek to find agreement vs. disagreement and see how it changes the tenor of a difficult discussion.


Have you thought about using “slidedocs”?

This is an excellent idea. Check out the Duarte presentation on Slidedocs.

Duarte Slidedocs
Duarte Slidedocs – a great way to communicate

a cup of coffee and a story

coffee cup at PTDo you enjoy a good story? Most of us do. In fact, stories have been the way we have handed down traditions, learned about our families and where we came from which helps us to know who we are, stories communicate values, what is important, stories tell of love, joy, hurt and despair. Stories are one of the richest forms of communication.

We all have a story and we are still writing that story – every day. Most of us want to share our story with people who are really interested, who care, and who will give us their attention and truly listen as we share our story. Most of us want to be known.

Now knowing that we want to be known, it stands to reason that others want to be known. They want to share their stories and if you stop and actually listen, you will be fascinated with the stories of others.

How does that tie in with a cup of coffee? I came across a blog by a young lady called 52 Cups of Coffee. For 52 weeks she took one person a week out for a cup of coffee and heard their story and it was a rich education for her – check out her list here. Sounds like a great idea to me!

So, an idea for you – set aside some money to start taking someone out for a cup of coffee once a week to hear their story. Now this is a time for you to ask a few questions and then to do a lot of listening. Sometimes all you have to ask is “Will you tell me your story?”. Other times, you can use these three simple, but powerful questions developed by Patrick Lencioni:

1. Where did you grow up?

2. How many siblings do you have and where do you fall in that order?

3. Please describe a unique or interesting challenge or experience from your childhood.

Now, if you are a leader of people, this is a great way to accomplish Principle Number 1 of The Way of the Shepherd – “Know the Condition of Your Flock”. Get to know your team – really know them – by spending time with each one of them and listening to their story. Try it for a month and see what you learn – you will be blessed.

A story and a cup of coffee – it doesn’t get much better than that.

Grace and peace to you,

are your words “fitly spoken”?

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.”

Proverbs 25:11-12

Are your words like “like apples of gold”? Are you blessing others and building them up with your words? Do you reprove others wisely and with their good in mind?

Words are powerful – use them wisely.


4 Very Powerful Things to Say

Good morning!garage window 2013

As leaders, there are some things that we just forget to say or that we somehow don’t think we need to or should say. That’s a mistake. In her article on the Inc. site Maria Tabaka lists four statements that she has found to be powerful and necessary.

1. I’m sorry

2. I was wrong

3. I need help

4. I don’t know

These seem pretty simple and obvious right? Yet, somehow they are difficult for us to use sometimes, especially when we are the leader.

If you are not using these simple words on a regular basis, maybe it’s time to find out why and then to start using them. They are powerful.


Three Things to Consider for Your Formal Communication System

Good morning! I am traveling some this week and having the pleasure of being part of a team that is coming alongside an stream Niles 2013organization that is doing good in the inner city helping them to better manage their organization. Great group of folks. I am writing this sitting on the side of a hotel bed – not the best way to write!

Communication among people is an art and a science and one that is so hard for us to master. Within an organization it gets even more complex. I have found that within an organization you can have people who have good relationships and a fairly strong informal communication process, but you still suffer because there is a weak formal system of communication.

As a leader, you need to establish a robust formal system of communication within your organization. Some things to consider are:

1. Frequency and regularity – people need to be communicated with more often that we as leaders often want to do so. They also need to know that the formal communication will be regular and reliable. If you are supposed to have some type of information meeting every Friday – do it and don’t skip a meeting. Especially don’t skip several meetings.

2. Remember that each of us don’t take in information the same way, some prefer to hear it, some read it, and so on. Therefore, you need to ensure that you are taking advantage of the many and varied mediums or channels that are available to us to communicate more effectively.

3. Say it and then repeat it at least seven times in various fashions. Just because you understand it doesn’t mean your team understands. Research shows that you need to repeat something important at least seven times for people to start geting it. So repeat yourself often and do so in various communication channels.

Be intentional and set up robust formal communication processes to keep your team informed. It is critical to the success of your organization.

Have a great Wednesday!

Four Components to Listening Better

Good morning! Getting a bit nippy here in northeast Indiana.

Listening well is a skill and one many of us have yet to master. It is a weakness of mine that God has convicted me of so I am trying to develop this critical skill. Fortunately Ambassador not only places a great value on this skill, they also teach you how to listen.

One tool they have is the four components of effective listening. (click here to read Ambassador’s article on this subject)

  1. To hear is to focus all of my senses on what the speaker is communicating, making it as easy as possible for him to say what he means and to have confidence in my full attention.
  2. To understand is to comprehend what the speaker means. This has nothing to do with evaluation or agreement; that comes later. I should be able to communicate back what they said to their satisfaction.
  3. To consider is to evaluate what difference his input should make in what I feel, think, or do.
  4. To give feedback is to expose how I will consider her input and to express appreciation for it. This can be done immediately, even before I have had time to thoroughly consider all of the implications of the input. Later, I can expose how I have incorporated it into my thinking and what I have done or will do as a result.

Start incorporating these four components into your listening and see how much more effective you become.

Have a great week serving our Lord!