Monday, February 9, 2009

Do you know WIIFM?

Does anyone NOT know what the acronym WIIFM means? If so, I cite it here and ask for the patience of those who have heard this term ad infinitum: WIIFM means, What's In It For Me?

Why do we re-visit WIIFM here? Well, because it forms a cornerstone of all communication.

WIIFM abbreviates the truth that we are all creatures of self-interest. Simply put, when we hear a message, we strain it through our self-interest. If a message doesn't touch us in a place of our need or our interest, we will likely ignore it.

But, before we criticize ourselves too much for our self-interest, we must remember that self-interest has kept us alive since the dawn of time. Having self-interest helped us evade the saber tooth tigers and, more recently, the city buses, not to mention the bad guys in the city parks.

Fortunately we don't have to worry for our lives in a business communication. Not yet, anyway. Nonetheless, a wise person will keep in mind that if she wants to communicate with another she will try to identify early on how her message benefits her audience. In other words, before she creates her message or chooses a medium, she needs to think from the outside in, identifying ahead of time the wants, needs, and interests of her audience.

Let's look at an example from the reverse, from the inside out, or from the writer's point of view. You know your objective. You want to introduce a new work schedule. You know that it will lead to more productivity and less absenteeism. You see higher revenues and commendations from your boss. Now, you just need to "communicate" the new schedule to the people who must live with it.

You may think this new schedule represents the genius of management thinking, but you can bet the employees will see it as just another management interruption if you don't present it to them in a way that reflects their wants and needs.

Too many organizations say, "The hell with them. This is the way it's going to be. This is the new schedule. Live with it." Others say, "We created this new miracle product (or service). It represents the best cleaning agent in history. Buy it." Well, those days are over. Any company that thinks it can drive profitability through authoritarian rule, or one-sided messaging, has a rude awakening coming.

If you wish to communicate, you need to answer the primary question in the mind of the audience: WIIFM? In the case of the new schedule, you need to answer: How will this new work schedule make my life easier. How will it fit in with my daycare needs? How will it gel with my husband's schedule? How does it relate to the city bus schedule? And so on.

We're not suggesting that management can't mandate work schedules and other operational matters. We are saying, however, that if you want to "communicate" a new work schedule, or any other message, you need to understand as thoroughly as possible how the message will be received before you send it. That means understanding WIIFM.

So, what's in this message for you? This: Keep WIIFM in mind at all times and you will achieve much more success in communication. You will have created your messages with the audience and it wants, needs, hopes and desires in mind!

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