Just to Be Clear, Here’s the Whole Message

Omar M. Khateeb
6 min readAug 18, 2017

When we communicate, people hear our words but more often feel our attitudes.

Jim Rohn said it best by pointing out that communication is less about what you know and more about how you feel about what you know. Sales people would likely agree with this.

Lately, I’ve been evaluating how I communicate with friends and family in order to best serve our relationships so that the other party can better understand me.

Ambitious people who are a keystone in their companies or families often convince themselves that there’s no room for their own feelings and that doing so would be selfish.

I would put myself in this camp.

Often times when we communicate we have the best intentions. However, poor communication will usually have a negative impact. Digging deeper I found that much of my own communication could be improved upon.

After doing what every Type A person does (consult mentors and read a good book on the topic) I put together a pneumonic that has helped me both personally and professionally.

Using FONT to Leave the Right Impression

Communication to others can be broken down into one of four categories: Feelings, Observations, Needs, and Thoughts.

For pneumonic purposes, think of “FONT”.

Feelings

This is probably the most difficult part of communication as it deals with a topic that is abstract and full of biases.

Depending on whom we are communicating to dictates how we articulate our feelings.

Feeling statements are not observations, value judgments, or opinions.

Saying “I feel that you’re being too nice” has nothing to do with feelings. It’s a slightly buffered judgment.

Feelings can also be defined as “intuition”, which is usually a wiser form of ourself guiding us.

  • I feel like I let you down and it’s killing me.
  • I light up with joy when I see you and feel an incredible rush.
  • Just checking my reaction, and I feel stunned about this.

Observations

Observations are as objective as communication gets and is often used by scientists, engineers, and detectives (both in real life and fiction).

There’s no room for speculation or inferences. Feelings have no place here, only facts.

These statements hinge on what the person has read or heard.

  • I saw you you drop your bag.
  • He’s planning on wearing a tuxedo.
  • I read on LinkedIn today that company xyz is going public.

Needs

Nobody knows what you want except you and even that is something many are not clear about.

We often put expectations on friends and family to be sensitive and intuitive to know what we want.

Having any kind of relationship without expressing needs clearly is like driving a car without a steering wheel; you can go fast but you can’t steer away from potholes.

Work and personal relationships can grow when they clearly and supportively express what they need:

  • Can you be home early? I would love to watch this show.
  • I’m exhausted. Can you do the dishes?
  • I need some time alone tonight. Can we meet tomorrow?

Thoughts

Our thoughts are simply conclusions, inferences drawn from what we read, heard, or observed.

Thoughts are our mind’s attempt to synthesize our observations so we can see what’s really going on and understanding the “how” and “why” around the events that occurred.

Thoughts can often be the result of our egos trying to take control and make sense of things:

  • Selfishness is essential to make it in business (belief).
  • I think your business is going to implode with all that’s going on (theory).
  • You were wrong to just quit like that (value judgment).

Something’s Missing Here….

When you leave something out, it’s called a partial message. These types of messages create confusion and distrust.

  • The other person senses something is missing, but they don’t know what.
  • They’re turned off when they hear judgments untempered by your feelings.
  • They resist hearing anger that doesn’t include the story of your frustration.
  • They are suspicious of conclusions without supporting observations.
  • They are uncomfortable with demands growing from unexpressed feelings and assumptions.

A partial message is just as bad as a partial sale; nothing really got accomplished but it feels like you got close.

Contamination in the Conversation

When you mix or mislabel a message it runs the risk of contaminating a relationship.

Contaminated messages are at best confusing and at worst deeply alienating.

“I see your wife gave you two sandwiches for lunch” is confusing because it’s an observation contaminated by a need.

The need is hinted at and the listener has to decide. These differ from partial messages in that the problem is not merely one of omission.

All the types of communication are often right there but are disguised and in a covert form.

  • Why don’t you act civil for a change?
  • Every year there’s a new hobby with you. I don’t know how you move from hobby to hobby like that.

Communicating with Whole Messages

Whole messages contain all four of these communications types.

You can evaluate if your message is whole by asking these questions:

  1. Have I expressed what I actually know to be fact? Is it based on what I’ve observed, read, or heard?
  2. Have I expressed and clearly labeled my inferences and conclusions?
  3. Have I expressed my feelings without blame or judgment?
  4. Have I shared my needs without blame or judgment?

Some examples of whole messages:

  • You haven’t said anything since I got home, and I assume you’re angry. When you withdraw like that I get angry too. I’d rather talk about it than do this”
  • The last minute project request is making me miss my daughter’s play. I should be there. It’s frustrating. But I do want to help where I can on this project.
  • You’ve reminded me four times to buy the ticket, and I get the impression you think I’m stupid or irresponsible. I feel watched and it makes me angry. Let me handle this myself and we can talk about it if I mess up.

Not every conversation requires whole messages. Effective communication with your waiter will probably not involve a lot of deep feeling or discussion of your emotional needs.

Even with colleagues, friends, and family, the majority of messages are just informational.

Direct — Don’t assume people know what you want or think.

Immediate — Delaying communication will only exacerbate feelings.

Clear — Complete reflection of your feelings, observations, needs, and thoughts.

Straight — Stated purpose is identical with the real purpose of the communication.

Supportive — Communication has a goal and it shouldn’t be to blow the other person away.

I can’t emphasize enough that effective communication is about being effective, not proper.

The art of and science of effective listening is essential to achieving effective communication. Whether at home or at work, clear communication is the key to management success.

(And don’t worry, I actually wrote a piece on listening here. I got you covered)

Omar M. Khateeb is medical device marketer with a focus on surgical robotics.

His interests reside in sales psychology, neuromarketing, and self-development practices.

Check out his virtual bookshelf here to find your next great read, and connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or SnapChat.

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