Are Your Headlines Getting Lost in the Details?


No matter how high up you go in an organization, communication can be a challenge. As a manager or leader, there’s a fine line between sharing too much information and not enough. Too much detail can leave others with the impression that you can’t see the big picture or focus on what really matters because you are bogged down in minutiae. Or people may think you are defensive when you dive into details in response to a question or comment, even if your intent is to merely explain or inform. On the other hand, not sharing enough detail may leave others thinking that you don’t fully understand the situation or issues at hand.

Wherever you are on the scale of detail-orientation, the most important thing is to make sure that the people receiving your communication get the “headlines,” the two or three key messages you really want them to understand.

Here are some guidelines I use with my executive coaching clients to help them focus on what to say and how to say it.

1.Consider the kind of impression you want to leave, and how you want to be viewed.

Taking this into consideration will help you determine the best method(s) to use for your communication (e.g., call, email, meeting, etc.), how to frame your message, and how you “show up.” Remember that how you communicate can reinforce or detract from the leadership brand you want to build.

2.Map out the two or three key messages that you want your audience to leave with.

If you had only 60 seconds to get your message across, what are the most critical things you want your audience to know? Once you’ve figured that out, think about how you can make those messages stand out, and connect your supporting information back to them. For example, if you are putting it in writing, using color and bold can help. If you are presenting the information in a group or one-on-one, you can use your handouts/material to reinforce your key messages.

3.Practice sharing your headlines first then filling in the details to ensure understanding.

Sometimes we can fall into the trap of providing all the information to support our point of view and then concluding with our summary of what it all means. Most leaders expect that you have done your homework — especially if you are high performer — and will ask you for more information if they need it. So, if you assume they want all the detail, you may lose their attention. Of course there are some leaders who are very detail-oriented, so adjust your style for your audience.

Either way, I would encourage you to start with the headlines and then provide more information as needed. This would work whether you are communicating something for the first time or merely responding to someone else.

Often, minor tweaks in your communication can make a huge difference. Just make sure you aren’t losing your audience in all the detail.