Targeting Your Message for Effective Communication

Targeting Your Message for Effective Communication

In this article, we draw upon this foundation and apply these tools to a discussion of targeting your message for specific purposes.

When we wish to target our message to achieve a certain goal, the first thing we have to consider is our audience. How are they likely to respond? How can you present your position most appropriately so that you can be most effective? How can you practice communication competence, for that is exactly what this type of situation requires.

In considering our audience, we draw heavily upon the concepts presented in Lesson 2, intercultural communication. These considerations are paramount to ascertaining what is appropriate and what is most likely to be most effective in our specific communications. Recall that being effective means getting your point across, while being appropriate means attending to the rules and codes of a given social situation. In fact, being appropriate and being effective are inextricably intertwined. That is, if you are not appropriate in your communications, you have little chance of being effective. Therefore, it stands to reason that the first thing you must do in targeting a specific message is considering the most appropriate manner in which to present your position.

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Such considerations might include the various co-cultural memberships of your target audience. For this, you will have to rely on schema and stereotypes to some extent; this is fine, as long as you don't forget that these are generalizations and may or may not apply to the individual with whom you wish to communicate. These are tools to draw from, not certain characteristics to attribute to your audience. One useful dimension of considering co-cultural memberships is that they can help you ascertain some educated guess of your target audience's value structure and priorities. Once you know your target audience's value structure and priorities, you are in a better position to make a compelling approach. Research in other areas of communication tells us that appealing to a person's values can prove a highly effective communication strategy.
For example, much research indicates that in more recent times, politicians have infused their messaging with religious, and specifically Christian, cues in an effort to reach and persuade this voting public, which has been extremely effective at the polls. Though this strategy is from tenets of mass communication, rather than interpersonal communication, the same concepts can apply when we are appealing to an individual. The bottom line is, what are this person's primary values? The question then becomes: How can you present your message so that it appears to comply with this person's primary values? Worlds have been changed with this strategy, and it can be equally effective in your own personal communication situations. Of course, going overboard with appeals to an individual's personal values can come across as disingenuous and actually work against you; but couching your position implicitly within values that your target audience holds can be highly effective. For example, if you are asking your boss for a raise, you will want to emphasize your characteristics that you know your boss prizes most highly. This is not the time for you to make appeals that make sense to you, but rather to make appeals that make sense to him or her. Rather than emphasizing what you believe to be important in your job performance, you are better poised for effectiveness in your communications if you can emphasize what you believe your boss finds important in your job performance.

Misunderstandings occur as a function of language use. There is no getting around misunderstandings, partially due to the nature of language, itself, as inherently imprecise and ambiguous. Therefore, in your appropriate communications, it is very important that you recognize misunderstandings are likely to occur, accept that, and keep your patience when they do occur. We can draw from the concepts given in the triangle of meaning, which helps explain that different people simply interpret the same word differently. This is not a function of either party being right or being wrong, but simply how people process language. This means that a fair degree of patience is demanded in all of our interpersonal communications. Misunderstandings will occur, so when they do, work with them.

In targeting our communications, we can also draw from the ideas presented in Lesson 9 -- conflict. In order to be appropriate in our communications, it is important that we avoid Gottman's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Instead, when our emotions begin to rise in a conversational exchange, we can draw from the ideas of emotional intelligence in Lesson 8. That is, rather than expressing our anger or frustration indirectly through raised voices, scoffing, or heightened physical activity -- such as pacing and door-slamming -- we can work to express our emotions in more intelligent and direct ways. That is, we can be explicit and overt in expressing the emotion we are feeling at the time, and promote an atmosphere of genuine attempts to alleviate discomfort, move forward, and achieve effectiveness in this conversation. Further, Lesson 9 presented successful conflict management strategies of avoiding, accommodating, competing, compromising, and collaborating. We can consider which strategy is most appropriate for our given situation, and consciously employ that strategy.

Additionally, chapter 10 gave us characteristics and outcomes of argumentative and aggressive communication. Recall that argumentative communication involves assertiveness while aggressive communication comes from hostility. If you have a tendency toward hostile communications, it may be difficult to be effective in your communications because hostile communications are by and large inappropriate rather than appropriate, as they seek to harm the other person rather than genuinely find a mutual understanding. If you would like your communications to be effective, they must also be appropriate. Expressions of irritability, negativity, resentment, and suspicion characterize hostility, and make it difficult to find common ground with your target audience. If you tend to have a quick temper, little patience, and need to get your own way you become exasperated, you can expect that these characteristics will impede your ability to be an effective communicator. It's difficult to find a common ground on a contentious issue with someone who is quick to anger when things don't go their way, and argues their position mercilessly and without regard for anyone else's perspective.

In targeting your message, you must remember that you are not the only one in this conversation. Your target audience will also have a perspective and will have something to say about the topic. The Listening provides insights to effective listening and common poor listening behaviors. If you would like to be an effective communicator, it is important that you be a quality listener. It's important to listen to and respond directly to your conversation partner's perspectives and positions. In targeting your message, you must remember that it's not all about you, and your goal is to effectively communicate your needs and desires. That also means that you must listen effectively in order to know how to most appropriately respond to your target audience's positions and concerns.

Part of targeting your message and being an effective communicator means considering your target audience's perceptions of self. This means paying attention to that person's face needs, as well as responding smoothly to your perceptions of that person's self-concept and self-esteem. In short, if you practice assertive and argumentative communication behaviors as defined in Lesson 10, rather than hostile and aggressive behaviors, you will be in a much better position for your message to be effective. Recall that in assertive communication, you state your position and don't get rattled in the face of opposition. This doesn't mean that you stubbornly hold your ground and insist on things being your own way, but rather that you make your argument openly, cleanly, and clearly in ways that honor your own position without stepping on another person's toes.

In short, targeting your message means considering most of the elements presented in this course. In order to be effective and appropriate, you must be a good listener, refrain from hostile communication behaviors and employ assertive ones; consider that person's co-culture memberships and perceived value structure, without overgeneralizing a group's characteristics to the individual, practice emotional intelligence, and engage in productive conflict management behaviors. While there is no single tried and true method for appropriate and effective communication, you must always consider the needs of your audience in order to ascertain what is appropriate and be effective.