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{#/pub/images/TalktoMeInPictures.jpg}Quick. Think fast. What’s your first thought when I say “workplace communication?” 


Did you think of written communication like texts, emails, memos, policies or reports?  Did you think of verbal communication like phone calls, meetings, one-on-ones or the grape vine?  Perhaps workplace miscommunication -- a conflict, a rant or your boss’ nonverbals during your last interaction – popped into your mind.   


I’d wager that if I ask the same question in a handful of years, there will be another category that will be top of mind.  If communication is all about getting the point across, we have evidence we have another option we really should be considering just as important – visual. 


According to Neil Fleming’s VAK theory, 65% of us are visual learners versus auditory or kinesthetic.  Look it up on Google.  It’s been touted for years so why should we start thinking of visual communication like we think of written and verbal communication? 


It’s not like imagery is news. Marketers, graphic designers, movie-makers and curriculum developers have already built their careers on this knowledge. We’ve all seen ways we can communicate visually with some functionality in the software that allows us to communicate with each other from bar charts in Excel to Smart Draw in Word and red flags in Outlook (Can you tell I use a PC?). 


I am talking about something that goes beyond.  It’s not new as much as using this tacit knowledge in how we communicate more effectively at work.  Let me make my case and give you four reasons I am calling this a bonafide trend of importance! 


Visual Communications: 4 Reasons Why It's Trending


Evidence Point #1 – The Bullet Point Be Damned 


Presentations without pizzazz are on their way out. Look at TED talks, new software and what turns on Gen Y (born 1980-1995).  We need gifs, full screen images and less text on any page. Interactive polling, dynamic angles and visual interest create attention.  We are seeing Gen Ys offering counsel to the older generations on how to connect with imagery. YouTube is a preferred medium. Dynamic and provocative visuals are known to engage the younger generation, heavily influenced by television and gaming.  


Want to connect with a Gen Y?  Choose to speak in their visual language! 


Evidence Point #2 – Telling the Data Story 


Hollywood may be controversial in many ways but they do have something going for them – the ability to tell a story in pictures. Data tells stories too.  And we are swimming in it.  From databases to dashboards, we are seeking an easy way to tell the story.  In many organizations, we struggle with how to share in a way the average person can understand. This goes beyond labeling charts to get our point across. We can listen more to Edward Tufte, one of the proponents of data visualization and author of multiple books on this subject. It’s all about the ability to tell the story the data yields. 


USA Today has done this for years in their familiar infographics. And it works. Infographics are becoming more business popular since free software is available which makes them easy to create.  We are seeing more of them in internal company work like research results, presentations and process diagrams as well as external facing work like marketing materials and bid submissions.  


Evidence Point #3 - Guiding Principles 


If you have ever done any of what we strategists call “organizational identity work”, you have worked on a company mission, vision and values.  It used to be that we identified a handful of values and claimed we lived by them. Now we ask employees of each value, “What does that look like walking around?” We take the answers and mold our values into behaviors people can see, making our written communication real. We now call them guiding principles. 


Values?  Not good enough!  Guiding principles?  Now we’re talking.  Because we can see what it looks like walking around, we have a better shot at walking our talk. 


Evidence Point #4 - Video Culture


Need I say more?  Okay, just a little.  Anyone with a smart phone can take a video. Instagram is a digital medium with the tagline “Capture and Share the World's Moments.” The world includes our workplaces.  Corporate lawyers are most likely working on policies to contain this as you read this.  The Association of Trainers and Developers (ASTD) teaches classes in how to maximize learning using video vignettes.  It’s not going away!   


Trite or Right?

Whether you agree or disagree that visual communication will be one of the top categories when answering “What is workplace communication?” in the short-term future, hopefully you cannot deny the signs that we are more exposed to it. 


Is it important or not?  As a strategist looking inside and outside of companies, I say yes.  As a generational researcher and reporter, that’s another resounding yes.  If we want to connect to younger bosses, employees and customers, we need to know how they understand, see the world and want to see the world. Pun intended. 



{#/pub/images/SherriPetroUpdated.jpg}Written by Sherri Petro, President of VPI Strategies & California Miramar University (CMU) Professor Sherri is a professor, accomplished strategist, organizational development professional and executive coach.  She consulted for 13 years in the for-profit, non-profit, and government sectors after a 16 year corporate career.  She teaches the Strategy Capstone as well as Leadership, Change Management and Business Ethics courses in CMU’s MBA program. Her current passion is educating organizations on how to increase organizational sustainability by leveraging the talents and skills of all in multi-generational workplaces. Sherri offers remedies to misunderstandings that result from different belief structures and lack of coherent communication by creating understanding and making connections at the belief level not only at the behavioral level.


Do you have a question for Sherri?  Please visit our Workplace Communication Skills Community, she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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