Communication is a Two-Way Street

Six ways to make sure that you’re communicating strongly, authentically, and with as much clarity as possible


One of the big aha moments participants in our training sessions have is that communication is a two-way street – and that the sender is just as accountable for that information landing appropriately as the receiver is. It can be tempting to use declarations – our ideas, our points of view, and what we are trying to share -- as a way to send information and be done, to check that one off our list. But how you send the information – and ensure it was understood – is part of declaring strongly.

Declaring plays an important role because it can reduce fear and increase engagement among members of the team driving the innovation process.

Here are six ways to make sure that you’re communicating strongly, authentically, and with as much clarity as possible.

Understand how your communication could be perceived. If you are a leader of a team and you continually send e-mails on weekends or late at night, you might be sending more information than you think. In addition to whatever is in the body of your e-mails, you might be also sending the message that your teammates are to reply to you and that you expect them to be working all the time. You might not intend to send this message, but if you have not clarified it previously, you may unwillingly be causing stress or confusion for your team.

Clarify when necessary. Introduce clear and declarative information from the very start to set up your team for success. If you are on the receiving end of confusing communication, one way to handle it is to declare that you need clarification. In the above example, teammates would benefit most if they clarify the expectations of their leader with respect to the desired timeliness of their responses to emails that arrive outside regular working hours, and in this way decrease the stress of uncertainty they might otherwise feel. This might sound like Communications 101, but you would be surprised at how often making assumptions and failing to clarify can put us in a mindset of fear.

Consider the timing of your communication. Communication is critical to the innovation process – because the next message is always somehow affected and reliant on the last message. This domino effect always seems to go better if it is given a great start. Timing your feedback and opinions and sending them intentionally can really make a difference in how successful your communication ultimately is. If you are pitching an idea, pursuing funding for your innovation, or trying to influence someone, think through when he or she would be most focused and receptive and send your declaration at that time.

Use the receiver’s preferred style of communication. How we communicate with our colleagues and teammates should be unique and intentional because everyone processes information differently. If we want to be heard, we have to package our thoughts and opinions in a way that is going to resonate best with that person or group of people. Think about the receiver’s preferred style of communication and what might be most appropriate for your declarations – then create a situation that will set you up for success. If it’s an important enough idea, give yourself permission to send a pre-communication e-mail or notice to ask the receiver when, where and how works best for him to give you the focus and attention you and your idea deserve. That might be different depending on the receiver. Some like executive summaries that are clear and short. Some like informal coffee meetings. And some like thorough and data-heavy presentations with the research behind the recommendations. If you can’t get that information directly from the person you’re communicating with, ask for help from teammates.

Customize the communications process to support the culture.

No two companies are the same, and neither are their processes. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for the other, which is why taking a step back from time to time to identify what works, what doesn’t, and what needs re-alignment can be extremely productive and healthy. When my wife and I took over Brave New Workshop in 1997, we were very intentional in how we held auditions. The industry standard is a relatively high-stress situation, which does not allow applicants to be their best selves. We don’t see standing alone on stage in front of a judging panel as the most productive way to get to know a potential employee. We declared that creating a safe place for all our employees, where they can be their most innovative selves, is important to our culture – and that declaration informed the way we structured the audition process. We let applicants know that we want them to succeed and that we can’t wait to get to know them. We let the whole applicant group warm up together, we introduce our team, and only then do we begin auditions. At the end of the process, and because we believe in a strong feedback loop, we have a conversation with the applicants about the experience. We offer some honest but kind observations that we hope will help them in their careers and auditions in the future.

We make sure that not only do we create a space for our potential employees to make their declarations successfully, but that we also manifest our organization’s declarations in the way we treat human beings and the way we design processes.

Declarations can take on many forms, from the silly start of an improv scene to the honest point of view shared with your innovation teammates to changing the perception of an entire society. What is important is that we find a way to declare. Practice will help us find the courage to make sure our voices are heard. 


JOHN SWEENEY is the co-owner and executive producer of the Brave New Workshop, America’s oldest satirical comedy theatre. He uses his 20+ years of improvisational performance, speaking and training to influence human behavior and to create simple but groundbreaking tools that have ignited cultures of innovative behavior within such companies as Microsoft, PWC, General Mills and UnitedHealthGroup.



Twitter: @iamjohnsweeneyLinkedIn:

ELENA IMARETSKA is vice president of New Products, Partnerships, and Sustainability for the corporate speaking and training business of the Brave New Workshop. She is the architect of the learning model and core curriculum of the organization’s offerings and has spent the past 8 years optimizing the business application of the improvisational approach to innovating, collaborating and leading.

Twitter: @imaretskaLinkedIn: 


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