"The belief that one's own view of reality is the only reality is the most dangerous of all delusions," said Paul Watzlawick, Austrian-American psychologist, communications theorist, and philosopher. His observation holds true in almost every kind of business communication and goes straight to the heart of audience analysis.
The presenter or writer who speaks strictly from her own version of reality, ignoring the characteristics of her audience, is indeed putting her message in danger. To best shape a message for a particular audience, the author of that message must take into consideration such characteristics as demographics and the speaking situation. But the author needs to have a clear idea of the disposition of the audience, too, that cluster of motives, attitudes, beliefs, and values that form the reality within which the audience will hear and assess messages. That reality may be quite different from the author's.
Most audiences, no matter how heterogeneous, are to a great extent egocentric, listening first for how your message will affect them. What's in it for me? is the question foremost in their minds. As you form messages, then, especially the language in which you express them and the support you provide for their legitimacy, be aware that audience members will be weighing both against their own needs and against how the message will affect what they know as reality. Evaluate audience needs and expectations in an attempt to frame if not deliver answers compatible with both and, as much as possible, fit your message into their reality.
Should your message be one that expresses bad news, be especially mindful of the effect such news will have on your audience; craft its impact carefully but truthfully.
Audience attitudes, too, demand scrutiny. First, use what you know about the audience to predict the attitudes its members are likely to hold toward you and your credibility. Shape ideas, select language, and provide support to meet the standards by which a particular audience judges your credibility, balancing appeals to ethos, logos, and pathos in a way that aligns your purpose with that of the audience. Consider, too, how you organize content, choosing a pattern that suits the tenor of your message while also providing a structure that aids audience comprehension. Finally, realize that in some instances an audience's attitude may be completely incompatible with your message. You may need to acknowledge that incompatibility by altering tone and diction.
Touchy as an audience can rightfully be about its values and beliefs, the speaker or writer must still account for their influence upon how an audience hears and accepts a message.
As the accepted standards of a person or social group concerning what is desirable or undesirable, values influence actions and attitudes. Because they are generally abstract—loyalty, for instance—their edges may be fluid, and thus differ from person to person or even within a person. Values develop from beliefs, the mental acceptance and conviction of the validity of something, a state of mind in which a person thinks something is true, whether or not supported by empirical evidence.
What does a speaker or writer do about differing audience values and beliefs?
Know what they are. Analyze their place in the message to be delivered. Honor them through acknowledgment of differences, through inclusiveness, through looking at or explaining points from several perspectives. Locate common ground—it's there, somewhere, and is a part of the reality you share with your audience.
"One cannot not communicate," Watzlawick also said. That, too, is part of the reality shared by business communicator and audience. Bank on it.