BLUFing Your Communication at Work

managers resource handbook

How to Present Information to Your Target Audience

We’ve all experienced it.  We ask for an update and our employee who sits just three offices down writes you an email that takes them an hour to write, and you 20 minutes to read.  Or, we get 4 attachments full of data and numbers that clog our inbox.  The concept of audience is taught in writing classes, presentation workshops and other related settings.  Audience essentially refers to the target recipient of the information.  In business situations, the difference between knowing and not knowing your audience can be a big deal.  And yet, somehow we still struggle with it.

Nowadays, we are overwhelmed by information.  Social Media.  Conference calls.  Emails, email attachments and presentations, not to mention people walking into our offices for a quick update.  As a manager, we sometimes just want (or need) to know the main take away without having to sift through a bunch of data to figure it out, or have a lengthy conversation to get to the main point.  As a result, we expect our employees to help boil down a mountain of information to help us get the conclusion faster.

RELATED: The Art of the Executive Summary

Think about the times when an employee sends you a 9 MB presentation.  The information he or she sent is littered with data, charts, background context and referenced documents. Connecting the dots quickly is next to impossible, and you do not really have the time to spending figuring it out.  By the end of 45 slides when you expect a punch line, you realize you forgot the question.

Teaching Employees How To Communicate

B.L.U.F. – which stands for Bottom Line Up Front – is a great lesson I regularly share with my employees when they ask me to review something. Many times, slides and documents are constructed as lengthy volumes intended for reference rather than a sharp presentation to be delivered to an executive.  After reviewing 45 slides of data and information, you should expect to see a punchline.  While supporting details are indeed important, a critical message can easily be lost when drowned out by excessive data, charts, background context and referenced documents.

Putting the Bottom Line Up Front means you have an executive summary, or something similar that indicates ‘this is what you’re going to see, so be prepared for it.’  Don’t make your audience work.


Learn More Tips Like BLUF…

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The BLUF approach drastically improves the communication of what’s important to the reader, and what the overall message is.  Sometimes details are needed.  Sometimes they are not.  BLUF can help in both instances since it boils the overall message down into it simplest form of a summary.  The person on the receiving end can always choose to go into the details as they feel necessary.  It’s a simple tip, but one I’ve found useful in communicating with others.

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2 comments

  • The DR

    Some things are hard to explain to clueless managers yet affect the, say – security of key systems. As some managers / leaders have become too lazy to even know what they own, and cutting corners by glamorizing the “ability” to turn complex matters into sound bytes they become a danger depending on their position. Many managers are fools, and the people that know, know it all too well. But they are taught well to shut up like this article boastfully encourages as it causes less trouble. (not attacking the writer – I value all opinions and did learn from this article) Many leadership don’t know nearly as much as they think they do, and are lucky to have that job. So ignore difficult things – words are hard, but I’m sure most managers think they know what is going on. The truth is this proves you can’t handle the job or are a true rock star to which I bow. This is rarely seen, and it they were – they would be driven to ask more questions driving up the data count ANYWAY. I am sick of lazy managers/leaders that think data is the enemy when they just got lazy, or don’t care is usually the case – but it will not be admitted. I bet the 1st people they blame when something goes south are the “taught” ones that learned to write 4 page pptx slides – then they didn’t do enough. Quit being lazy. Words aren’t hard… Delegate and get out of the way or learn to read at least some of the things people spent extra work they knew they didn’t need to do – to help support and educate you as they are likely trying to respectfully lead you to a better path you only think you know of. A shortcut to know if you should read a long email or preso – if it includes more work for the person or team presenting it – pay more attention as they take it serious, so should you. If it’s designed to get them out of work – look for the team / person that will take on more to make it real. That is the shortcut – not pretending complex matters are sound bytes if you are truly in control. Otherwise you are coasting. Also this is very important – if you can’t digest data from your directs, that means you are not digesting data from your peers either as they shrink the data too as it becomes culture – so it cascades into fast or gradual failure and massive disconnect., GL.

    • Thank you for your thoughts on this topic, we appreciate the participation!

      Unfortunately, there are certainly lazy managers out there who do not want to take the time to understand the details that their employees spent a long time putting together, and simply want a short summary to make their life easier. This is true.

      However, there are legitimately times and situations where good managers simply need help synthesizing data and information to help make decisions faster. So while there are certainly bad managers out there who do not want to exert the effort to understand (we all know some), the point of the article was simply to share a concept that can help people communicate more efficiently in the office (when appropriate and necessary).

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

      Tim G.
      Editor
      The Manager’s Resource Handbook

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