Google declared being responsive as the Gold Standard for web design, so the responsive vs adaptive argument is over. Responsive design usually refers to a website that adjusts it size to fit the dimensions of your device … resulting in just the right display size for your phone, tablet or large screen. Adaptive, on the other hand, refers to changing not only the format of the information, but changing WHAT is presented based upon your device and a number of other factors.
But this (repackaged content vs. highly customized content) is the age-old challenge of not only marketing, but of all communication, including interpersonal communication. Do we simply fit what we have to say into a convenient package for each audience or person (respond)? Or do we adapt, and present what each audience or person perceives they need? Google can’t answer that one for you.
Why being “responsive” feels right, but isn’t… quite…
On first thought, being “responsive” seems like a good thing, doesn’t it? It’s at least better than reacting. I am the father of 3 boys and one daughter. When it came to mediating arguments, I usually said exactly the same thing to each of them. Sure, I changed my vocabulary a bit depending on their age, and even spoke to my daughter a little differently because she’s a girl, not a boy…but, essentially the message was the same. That method was partly effective because I was being “responsive” — I reformatted what I knew needed to be said to fit the individual, and based upon what they told me. Surprisingly (to me) the argument would subside only for a while, and then resurface later.
…effective communication happens when our messages are ones they want to hear, when they want to hear, and in the form they want Tweet This!.
Reason 1: being responsive forgets that context creates the audience
What I was missing was that not only was each person unique, each person had a unique set of feelings, motivations, hurts, and aspirations…unique to them AND unique in each situation, or context, in which the argument took place. I was simply reformatting my basic message, instead of re-crafting my message based not only on to whom I was talking, but also on the context of emotions, situations, and motivations. I wasn’t dealing with the whole person in context — and that’s the problem with responsive communication.
Whether interpersonal conversation or corporate branding, the audience for all communication is created by context. Just as we can’t dip our toe twice into the same proverbial river, we also are never really communicating with exactly the same audience more than once. Your best friend you spoke with this morning is not the same person this evening: she’s been shaped and changed by a whole day of experience, emotions and expectations. The subscribers to your newsletter are not the same people they were when they read your last issue.
Reason 2: being responsive focuses on who and what, and overlooks why
Because responsive communication is based upon my observation, I end up neglecting the contextual factors that I can’t see. Most significant, I end up disregarding the importance of why the audience might care…or not care…about what I have to say. To state the obvious: without connecting to the why, communicators become ineffective at engaging people holistically
Reason 3: being responsive never moves the message from “what I want to say” to “what you think you want to hear”
Back to parenting — we’ve all been guilty of delivering exactly the message our children need to hear (usually a combination of “you’d better not…” and “why don’t you start…” ) — and then learning too late that what our children wanted to hear was simply “I love you” and “Everything is alright”.
This is one of the fundamentals of communication… one that we need to go back to and reinforce continually: the most effective communication happens when the messages we deliver are the ones our audience want to hear, when they want to hear it, and delivered in the form they want.
I know that when communicating one-on-one with individuals we have a far better chance of understanding the context, discovering the why, and learning what others think they want to hear. As we start communicating with clusters and groups of people, we naturally lose some capacity for intimate understanding. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take a more adaptive approach to communication.
In my next article, I’ll look at ways to be adaptive. I’m sure there are more than three reasons why simply responsive communication falls short. Perhaps you can think of some — and think of examples of how ‘responding’ doesn’t give you the best results in your personal or corporate communication. Share your stories and ideas in the comments below.
Question: Do you respond or adapt in your communication?How have you missed the context when communicating? You can leave a comment by clicking here.