Knowledge Worker’s Communication Guide: The Rules (part 2)

The last time we looked at building blocks of a communication: the Whats. Or you can think of them as the nodes, the Data Structures. This time let’s look at the mechanics, how they relate with each other, and see what Rules we can extract from them.

To refresh our minds, here are the different Pieces:

  1. Forms (Text, Images, Audio, Video)
  2. Types (one-way: Documenting/Broadcasting or two-ways: Conversing)
  3. Modalities (Synchronous vs Asynchronous)
  4. Stages of Data to Wisdom (DIKW framework even though I disagree of the pyramid representation)
  5. Lifecycle of communicating Tacit x Explicit and vice versa (Capture the Tacit, Process, Document the Explicit)
  6. Directions of a conversation (Converging and Diverging)
  7. Factors (Why, Who, What)

I have since played around with the rough ideas outlined in the first part and refined my thoughts further. I attached some of the sketches I made trying to figure out how they relate with each other, at the end of this post. Hope you can somewhat trace how they evolve and how I derive the things I share here.


How they relate

OK I know the Pieces, now give me some Rules that govern the pieces!

  • Types determine Modalities. Only do Synchronous if you need any two-way communication that 1) could diverge or 2) your tool doesn’t provide you. If you are introducing a change in workflow and expect questions, share the detail of the change and a FAQ (Content + Context) and host a Q&A session if you need help in compiling the FAQ. If you need to announce something and need acknowledgement, say “give this message a thumbs up” or reply with any. One way: stick to Asynchronous. You can do magic by weaving Sync and Async appropriately. The key is to be mindful of all these tools and modes you can play with.
  • The nature of the message (a continuum of logical to emotional) affect Form. The more human you need to be, the more Forms you need to use. The more senses you need to engage.
  • There are three aspects of Impact:
    • Duration. How long will the impact lasts, what event will signify the expiry? E.g. the impact of this downtime will be until the services are up again.
    • Depth. How deep will the message impact each audience, how deep should we make it to be. Think human experience. Giving condolences to one person who just lost their loved ones VS terminating their contract. This is a qualitative measure. I think a good rule of thumb to use here is: aim to have the same level of impact to the group you are communicating with. If you have too much disparity in the level of impact, adjust the size of Group or craft the communication to have these addressed separately.
    • Breadth. How many people will be impacted? In how many different roles.
  • Combination of the three aspects of Impact determine Urgency.
  • Urgent needs immediate broadcast. Urgent messages usually mean it’s urgent to get the message out, but not all require immediate follow up action from the recipient, if any.
  • Urgent messages require acknowledgement if it’s High Impact.
  • There are three Intentions to every communication:
    • A change in behavior. Someone needs to take actions. Goal: Influence.
      • Need more iterations of the Lifecycle to sustain.
      • Requires change mental and/or emotional state to trigger
    • A change in mental state. Someone needs to know/understand/be aware of something. Goal: Alignment.
      • Knowing != understanding != finding it meaningful != remembering
    • A change in emotional state. Someone needs to feel something. Goal: Connectedness.
  • Intention puts constraints / help guide Maturity of message required
  • You need a go-to tool for each Lifecycle. If you have inefficient workflow right now, probably you have gaps in tool availability, usage, or hygiene.
  • Tool hygiene. The biggest trap we all fall into. Everyone need to 1) agree on the tools, 2) how to use the tools, and 3) keep them up to date, accurate, and comprehensive. Floss your data and tools.
  • The audience / conversation partner determines the Content needed and the amount of shared Context available.
  • You will need to prepare, distribute, and develop Content and Context multiple times, to different groups of different sizes, in different Density and Forms, in different stages of Maturity, in the process of achieving an Intent. This is normal. This is why “overcommunicate, overcommunicate, overcommunicate” is the well known mantra. If you care about communicating effectively, there is no one-size-fits-all. It’s inefficient as a whole but you can do each iteration efficiently. It’s a non linear system.
  • Size of the group affects Density.
  • Size of audience / conversation partners depend on the Stage. What Data do you need to create the Content? Who has the Tacit or Explicit knowledge relevant to this conversation & where we want to get to?

Yes these are all very abstract, so stick around and I’ll share some examples and tactics to put these principles to use in the next parts of the series.


At first I tried mapping out the combination E.g. when would the Video form be appropriate for Documenting and when is it appropriate for Conversing. But I soon realise these Pieces don’t correspond one to one. But rather some Piece affect other Pieces, and some Pieces come under another.


First attempt to map how Impact and Urgency relate to Modalities, the steps to decide the most efficient and effective way to communicate, how “hardness” or “softness” of the message affect the other Pieces, how Content and Context play against Recipients / conversation partners….


Steps and relationships taking shape.


Third iteration. The idea of Intent came up. Decided there are three common Intent to every communication. Thought about common communication Goals that apparently aligned with the three Intents. Visualised the process involved in message Maturity….


Everything I’m describing here are really communication mental models we already developed as an adult who had gone through different life situations. They come naturally to some of us and for some of us we need to hone deliberately.

These decisions happen on a split second for most communication (Should I call or should I text? Should I turn the video on or leave it off?). But there are communication that’s more difficult to navigate (Do I call for an all-hands or share a memo and host a Q&A? Which ones of my meetings are necessary? How can I make my meetings efficient? In what ways are my current communication ineffective?).

I hope by making these processes explicit, it can help us examine the gaps in our communication, and work on closing them. Having a way to think about our communication will keep us stay mindful and communicate more successfully.

Yes perfect communication is HARD. We can only make it less bad. We can communicate better by fixing one bad practice at a time. Go get ’em.

Hi there. This post is part of Knowledge Worker’s Communication Guide series (need a more sticky name, any idea / suggestion on what to call this lens?)

My working outline:

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