Communication tip: Persuade people with the “which means…” framework

Written by: Karl Sakas

I have a former coworker who loved to complain that he’d already explained something. This often came up when we asked him to explain something that—surprise—only he seemed to understand. The main communication tip in this article was inspired by the issues I saw from his interactions.

His signature moment came during a team conference call, where he told five of us, “Working with you is like trying to teach algebra to kindergarteners!” And then hung up on his coworkers.

What he didn’t understand is that communication is about the receiver. That is, if you say something, but the receiver didn’t understand it, you didn’t communicate.

Leaders must communicate

When we’re in a leadership role, we need to communicate with our team (plus clients and others) about our vision and goals, to enlist their help. The problem is that things are often clear in our head, but not to others.

That’s not surprising, because others aren’t in our head. However, since we want them to help with our plans, it’s now up to us to figure out how to communicate what we need.

I like using “which means…” phrases. It’s an easy-to-use framework. You can use it with employees, clients, vendors, or anyone, really. It’s a version of selling people on the benefits instead of the features.

Communication tip: The “which means…” framework

The framework is simple: “<STATEMENT>, which means <BENEFIT TO RECEIVER>.” Let’s look at a before-and-after.

Before: Too much about Features

A client in Europe is changing his agency’s business strategy. I’m advising him as he plans his all-hands meeting, where he’ll introduce the changes to his employees.

One portion of the meeting includes examples of how he’ll add more structure for employees. Here’s a partial list he wrote:

  • Clearer job descriptions
  • Clearer career paths
  • Better-defined processes
  • Clearer value proposition

To me, those sound good. As a business consultant, I know those are all good things, but most people aren’t thinking all day long about how to optimize businesses.

When his employees hear the news about the strategy change, they’re thinking about just one thing—”What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM). They’re thinking about how it impacts them. And it’s not just them—you think about WIIFM, too.

After: Use “which means…” to sell the Benefits

Let’s add some “which means…” to that list!

  • Clearer job descriptions, which means we won’t waste as much time trying to figure out who’ll handle what
  • Clearer career paths, which means people have opportunities to grow that don’t require a company change
  • Better-defined processes, which means we won’t waste so much time figuring things out from scratch
  • Clearer value proposition, which means you get to work with higher-quality clients

Much better, right? Now it’s clear how people will benefit from the change. It’s important to find (and point out) incentive alignment.

When people see change as good—instead of open-ended and scary—you’ll have an easier time enlisting them to do what you want.

Question: What’s something you plan to share today that you can enhance by using the “which means…” framework?

Book Cover: "Work Less, Earn More" by Karl Sakas

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