Not everyone is like you

We all know the Golden Rule. No, it’s not “The one who has the gold makes the rules.”

It’s the other one: “Do unto others …”

During the 2014 Nonprofit Executive Summit in Santa Fe. N.M., Debbie Johnson, chief financial officer of the American Diabetes Association, invoked the Golden Rule of Communication, as given by Milton Bennett: “Do not treat other people like you want to be treated unless they are like you. Many communication problems stem from assuming that other people are like us, then treating them that way.”

Instead, Johnson recommended being aware of the audience and then tailoring text/details, data and visuals to each. Johnson explained for the following audiences:

  • Researchers, academics, technicians, etc. Provide a good overview of text/details. Provide sufficient data for a clear argument. Use sufficient visuals and charts to communicate the message.
  • Practitioners and colleagues. Provide an executive summary and a few other details. Give from one to four uses of data, with emphasis on practice, QI and efficiency. Use plenty of visuals.
  • Administrators, leaders, policy makers, etc. Provide an executive summary only, with emphasis on conclusions and suggested actions. Use one to two samples of data, with an emphasis on quality, money and outcomes. Use plenty of visual messages.
  • The public, parents, the media. Provide only a few facts. Next, focus on take-home messages. Use one to two samples of data, with emphasis on the gravity of the problem. Use lots of visuals and pictures.