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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

What defines Successful Communication?

Updated: Dec 3, 2022

An antique phone

Successful communication creates a sharing of ideas and feelings between the communicator and the audience. It results in an audience that attends to, engages with, and takes action on a message to achieve desired outcomes.

Strategic communication design begins and ends with the audience.

A communicator who knows their audience is able to design communication that accounts for what the audience already knows, what they do, and what they care about. Successful communication resonates with the audience.

The more an audience perceives the communicator to be someone who understands them and can reflect their needs and concerns, the greater the communication success. A communicator will be successful when they are not only aware of the audience’s thoughts, values, emotions and feelings, but are responsive to them. The effective communicator “tunes in” to the audience during both the development and delivery of communication. They connect with the audience at a level that creates a free-flowing two-way exchange that “gets through,” in the words of Sydney Harris:

"The two words 'information' and 'communication' are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through." Sydney J. Harris

Successful communication delivers a message that is accurately and clearly conveyed. The words, expressions, and examples used must be meaningful to the audience. The message must be clearly understood and mean the same thing to the audience that the sender intended.

If a message is misunderstood, it is largely the fault of the communicator. True, an audience may be hard of hearing, or distracted, or make incorrect assumptions; but even in these instances, the communicator needs to take the lead in correcting or preventing these problems:

  • For an audience that can’t hear, use amplification, subtitles, visual aids, and handouts among other non-auditory techniques.

  • For the distracted audience, gain and maintain their attention and interest through effective attention-getters and meaningful engagement.

  • Prevent incorrect assumptions through completing a needs assessment and asking good questions. Know the audience.

Don’t blame the audience for not following a message, clarify the message. Use words they understand, illustrations that are meaningful, and check for understanding. Make sure the audience “gets it.” Pay attention to their feedback and respond appropriately.

Successful communication utilizes one or more channels that are well selected for the audience, the message, and the situation. The channel(s) selected are affordable to both sender and receiver. They are appropriately and skillfully used. They are effective in reaching the intended audience and allowing the audience to provide feedback.

The choice of channel takes into consideration many factors. To be successful, the channel must be one the audiences uses and prefers. Find out from the audience how they prefer to receive information. Use multiple approaches as appropriate. Audiences represent many different learning styles and preferences. Each method of delivery will match some people’s preferred style and not others. Utilizing several methods increases the likelihood of success.

Communication is successful when it reaches the intended audience, meets their needs, resonates with their values, is understood clearly, and results in the desired knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. If you were to define a component of successful communication using one word, what word would you use? Put your word in the comments.

Be watching for an upcoming blog where we will take a humorous look at the opposite of successful communication: “Miss Communication.”

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