As a communication coach, I get asked for tips to communicate more effectively at work. While I resist doling out one-size-fits-all advice, I’ve found there is one thing that helps many of my clients improve their communication and that I’m comfortable saying to most people who want to improve:

Work backwards!


What do I mean by that? I mean start at the ideal end result of your communication by answering this question for yourself:

What do you want the recipients of your communication to know or do?


Once you’re clear in your own mind what you want your communication to achieve, just work backwards from there. Provide your audience with the information they’ll need to either know what you want them to know or do what you want them to do—mo more, no less.


It’s such a simple idea, but most people don’t work backwards. Why? Probably because it takes time and energy to distill to its essence what you want to achieve. But also, it’s not always straightforward to think about your audience and determine what would help them understand or what would motivate them to act


Example 1: Fight the urge to recount events chronologically


Let’s look at one example of how you might boil down what you want your audience to know. You know you need to communicate to your manager what happened during a client meeting you attended.


If you don’t give it much thought, you might start drafting an email that narrates chronologically what transpired at the meeting. And if you do that, you’re missing a chance to provide value for your manager.


Instead, if you thought more specifically about what you want your manager to know, you might conclude that what she really wants to know is how the client reacted when they learned of the delay with deliverable X. And once you focus your email on delivering that bottom line information, you can really streamline the communication to provide only what your audience needs to process and understand what they really need to know.


Example 2: Consider what will help them (not you) take action


Let’s look at another example that illustrates how you might decide what information to communicate once you know what you want your audience to do. You have a great idea to improve profitability for your organization. But you need money to implement the idea, and the senior leadership team would need to approve the funds.


If you don’t give it much thought, you might put together a presentation with charts and tables that show your understanding of how your idea will pay for itself in 9 months. After all, the math adds up, and it should make sense to everyone, right? Hmm, maybe… Maybe not.


Your audience may not make decisions like you do. Instead, if you start with your end goal where the senior leadership team approves funding for your idea and work backwards from there, you’ll end up thinking about:


  1. Who’s on the leadership team
  2. What each of them cares about
  3. What has motivated them to approve funds in the past
  4. What hot-buttons would cause them to deny your request

If you don’t make a point of thinking about your audience and what’ll motivate them to act, you’ll just think about what motivates you, which may or may not hit the mark.



Working backwards is a simple concept—you figure out what result you want from your communication, and then you figure out how to make it happen. But for most people, it’s not natural. After all, we tend to think chronologically, and we deliver information chronologically. So there’s the challenge and the opportunity: Take the extra time and energy to think about where you want to end up before you start communicating. Your audience will thank you for it, and they’ll be much more willing to follow you wherever you want to lead them!



Guillermo Villar is principal coach with Cambio Coaching. He helps high-achieving individuals and teams communicate with intention to get the business results they want. If you’re interested in working with Guillermo, sign up for a free meeting to explore how he can help.