Communicate effectively with know/feel/do

Thinking about these concepts – know, feel and do – helps us organize our thoughts quickly and shape a clear message to our audiences.

At a recent gathering of young clergy and professors, I heard a frequent refrain about the desire to better balance the multiple demands of work and life. Most of these individuals had young families and spouses and served churches or other institutions. They were amazing, effective people, but many were craving a way to do things better and more efficiently, so as to hone work-life balance.

Although there is no magic formula for addressing the complex lives we now live, I did think about one practice that simplifies and streamlines the way in which we communicate with others -- leaving us with a bit less to do.

Bill Jensen, an author and speaker on work complexity, suggests that we use the concepts “know, feel and do” to guide our communications, whether in person, on the phone or in an email. In The Simplicity Survival Handbook, Jensen says that know/feel/do helps us organize our thoughts quickly and shape a clear message to our audiences.

Know: “What’s the one thing I want people to know, understand, learn or question?” Jensen argues we ought to be able to write this down in one sentence. This is what we want people to come away knowing. We might begin a meeting or an email by saying, “Here is the most important thing we will do during this hour…” or “This is what we will accomplish…”

Feel: “How do I want people to feel when I’m done?” While we can’t predict how people will feel in an exchange, we can take feelings into account in every exchange. Starting with “How was your weekend?” or “I want to thank you for being here,” or “I’m going to give you what you need to succeed in this new program” goes a long way in establishing emotional credibility with another person or group and sets the tone for the exchange.

Do: “What do I want people to do as a direct result of my communication?” What is the next step you want people to take? Are they to register for an event? Should they read and respond to a document you have sent them? Would you like them to consider an offer?

Know/feel/do grew out of the 1990s, when change management practitioners were using head/heart/ hands models to create sustainable change. But Jensen notes that head/heart/ hands was a process that took longer to implement. Know/feel/do focuses communication immediately because it is the shortest distance between what is in our heads and what people need to hear.

Jensen says that there are several benefits to know/feel/do.

First, as it becomes second nature, it can be used on the spur of the moment -- to clarify issues in the midst of a long meeting that is getting side-tracked, for instance. Second, it is a practice that is disciplined and that encourages discipline in all of our communications. As such, it helps us write shorter emails that might actually get read. Third, it helps us to view our audience as decision-makers and to organize our thoughts according to how people listen.

Importantly, the practice of know/feel/do also strikes me as one that is particularly complementary to Christian leadership: beyond efficiency, it includes a way of caring about the feelings and needs of those we serve; it is respectful to our audiences, as it presumes agency on their part; and it encourages us to have real dialogue with others, not just talk at them.