The second (overlooked) side of communications: interpersonal.

10 best practices for speaking & listening

Portrait of Kevin Brown, Co-founder & CEO of Mighty Ally

Marketing vs. interpersonal communications. Related disciplines, but one gets all the attention.

Most nonprofits and social enterprises lack big marcom budgets. Limited ability to use channels and media to reach new audiences. But one thing every social venture has? A team full of people. Speaking and meeting every day, inside and outside the organization. Hopefully communicating a compelling story about your brand.

Your company’s marketing communications and brand storytelling are critical, of course. But if your leaders can’t get that same message across clearly and motivate others to act on it (including your own team), then having a message doesn’t even matter.

Let’s use One Acre Fund as a hypothetical. Only because founder Andrew Youn is one of the best communicators in the social sector, as seen here. One Acre Fund has grown to seven countries with 8,000 staff. If everyone on the team speaks with 10 people a day, that’s 21 million (!) messaging opportunities a year from the most important brand ambassadors: internal staff.

We see it all the time with our growth-stage social venture clients. Impactful work, brilliant theories of change, new brands and messaging out in the world, but shit ability for the team to communicate well. So does a vision and mission and strategic plan even matter if it all falls apart in daily interpersonal communications?

You might not be at 8,000 people in size like One Acre Fund, but the math still proves the point. Interpersonal comms is such a critical part of building a brand from the inside out.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”


Some compelling research.

Not convinced yet? Here’s a bit of reinforcement why interpersonal communications matter.

Research by Gartner shows that 70% of business mistakes are due to poor communication.

According to Gallup, 74% of employees feel they’re missing out on company information and news.

UCLA found that when people are speaking, 7% of the message comes from the words, 36% comes from the voice, and 57% from nonverbal communication.

NonprofitPRO talks about interpersonal communication being critical to align volunteers, staff, and other stakeholders with your mission. And they provide this helpful frame.

It includes engaging employees in your cause, communicating news through channels such as a company newsletter or staff meetings, and using technology to make it easier to communicate and collaborate internally.

“Great leadership is about connecting with others and creating a sense of confidence and [teamwork]. None of this happens without exceptional communication skills, which involves more than giving a great speech.”


Quick tips for communication.

So what to do? Here are 10 best practices:

Tip #1

Communication should have a goal. As a leader, ask yourself, what is the message I want my team or audience to receive?

Tip #2

Adapt to your audience or listeners. Identify their characteristics, interests, and needs, then adjust how you communicate.

Tip #3

Grab attention at the beginning of a talk or meeting with a startling statistic, an interesting anecdote, or a concise quotation.

Tip #4

Offer an overview of key points before getting into a presentation’s details. “We’ll be talking about XYZ.”

Tip #5

Return to key points often. When you say something three times, the audience is more likely to remember it.

Tip #6

Until your people are mocking you, you’ve not repeated your message enough.

Tip #7

Pay attention to the unspoken. Body language and facial movement further communicate what someone is thinking.

Tip #8

Don’t assume. Summarize what has been said to verify and confirm understanding.

Tip #9

Do the work before debating an opinion. Aim to understand the other side of the argument better than the other person even does.

Tip #10

Listening fosters trust, respect, and understanding. Pay attention and nod/agree to confirm your attention. Which brings us to…

Listening for better conversations.

Since half of all interpersonal communication is listening, Stephen Covey’s well-known Five Levels of Listening is helpful.

1. Ignoring — we completely ignore what has been said.

2. Pretend listening — using the right body language, but not listening.

3. Selective listening — we listen to the parts that interest us and switch off for the parts that don’t.

4. Attentive listening — we pay attention and really take on board what has been said.

5. Empathetic listening — we concentrate and listen to understand the intent behind the message.

And we love this TED Talk below from Celeste Headlee, where she reminds us that a conversation requires a balance between talking and listening.

Some more resources.

There’s a lot of reading out there. Here’s a start.

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