Want to improve your Covid-19 messaging? Use the 4 communication 'archetypes.'

By Jim Kane and Tanakorn Kittisarapong

As businesses around the country start to reopen—and many states concurrently report an uptick in novel coronavirus cases and hospitalizations—it's more important than ever for people to wear a mask in public and practice social distancing. Yet, despite highly publicized evidence showing that social distancing and masks mitigate infection rates, it's been difficult to garner widespread and consistent adoption of these practices.

While health care leaders know that one of the best ways to keep communities safe is to repeatedly and widely encourage masking and social distancing, it can be challenging to communicate the importance of these interventions in a way that inspires immediate and lasting behavior change. And with the overwhelming amount of information (and misinformation) out there on Covid-19, important messages can get lost as people struggle to keep up to date.

To help, here are four communication archetypes you can use to "make the case" for a safe re-opening in your community—and make sure your message cuts through the noise.



What speaks to you? The 4 communication archetypes.

When we decide to do something, there's specific information we each look for to inform our choice. For some, it may be data about the efficacy of the intervention. For others, it may be understanding how your action will impact others. We all have different preferences—and as a result, a message that resonates deeply for some may fall flat for others.

So how can you, as a health care leader, motivate change? Use this outline of the four primary archetypes for persuasive communication. While they're not rigid categories, and people may identify with more than one archetype dependent on situation, they provide a helpful framework to understand your own, your colleagues', and your patients' perspectives—and pinpoint their "need to know" information.

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4 tips to craft a persuasive message

Just knowing someone's communication preferences isn't enough to inspire change—and it's likely that you'll have to experiment with several styles depending on who you're speaking to. Below, we've highlighted some tips you can use to construct a convincing message.

  1. Identify your own preferences to pinpoint your blind spots
    The first step to identifying your own archetype is to ask yourself what types of arguments you find most compelling—do you prefer data-driven or more process-oriented arguments?

    Look at past examples of your own communication, including letters and emails, to identify commonalities. Think about the information you most frequently remember and cite in conversations with others—chances are that those are the messages you find most compelling. When thinking about how to pitch your message, it's helpful to be aware of your go-to communication preferences so that you can thoughtfully craft a case that appeals to a wide range of stakeholders.

  2. Seek out colleagues with complementary strengths to help you craft your message
    Once you know your blind spots, it's important to proactively account for them when you put together a message. Consider turning to your colleagues with different communication styles to help you fill in the gaps in your communication. For example, if you know you struggle to account for the interpersonal impacts of a change, you might ask your "Diplomat" colleague to weigh in on an important communication document before you send it out.

  3. Use feedback to continuously evolve your message
    Chances are that many of your colleagues or patients have different preferences than you do. One of the best ways to tailor your messaging in the moment is to note the questions you get in response and think about the insight they give you into that person's style.

    For example, if a colleague supports your approach but asks for more details on the process, you may need to dial up your "Architect" communication style to make the case. In these moments, rather than getting defensive or frustrated, use feedback to pivot your approach in the moment and inform future conversations.

  4. When you can, use all four communication styles in the same message
    When you have the chance, consider incorporating all four communication styles into your message. For example, if you're writing an e-mail communication, include a data point, a personal appeal, details about your long-term plan, and a clear connection to an organizational goal.

    You may not be able to perfectly appeal to all of the styles but including each makes it more likely that at least some aspect of your argument will persuade everyone in your audience. And remember, no message is perfect. The more you can repeat your message in multiple ways and multiple times, the more likely it is to be successful—and inspire change. Just as the adage goes, “If at first you don’t succeed try and try again”, in this case write and write again.

Want to learn more about the 4 communication archetypes?

Watch our 15-minute webinar, "Four communication styles every physician leader should know" to explore each of the four communication archetypes—and learn more about how you can apply them to your work.

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