Communication and engagement, part one – the communication spectrum

The term “communication” embraces the range of human interaction. Being more precise about the type of communication we want to enhance, enables us to better evaluate the quality of our communication, and move the organisation forward with specific communication skills, such as engagement.

Communication is interaction. Messages are given and received verbally and non-verbally. When people ask for “more communication” what specifically do they mean? Such a request is very broad and wide-open to interpretation. Here is a model that I call the communication spectrum. It represents a range of communication flavours that we might encounter in our most intimate relationships, our families, communities and workplaces.

At the top of the spectrum in the green zone are appreciation and engagement. We want more of these for effective communication to foster the development of the important relationships in our lives. Talk is in the neutral range of the spectrum. It can range from the more positive manifestations such as dialogue, (inferring an exchange) through to monologue (inferring communication with a dominant party).

The red zone is where our communication can go wrong, and so often does. Debate is ok, but not when the contest is more important than the communication. Conflict can be very productive, but it also depletes us. And communication is really heading for the red zone when someone withdraws, seeing no point in further exchanges, or a lack of safety. Both physical and verbal abuse are communication, and neither serves any useful purpose.

This model provides an easy to understand tool to evaluate the quality of our communication. We can simply ask: Is this communication above, or below, the horizon? Or, how much of my time do I spend above the horizon? What would happen if I spent more time in engagement and appreciation?

Effective stakeholder engagement will happen in a workplace communication climate where engagement is valued, not just as a skill to use with external stakeholders, but as a predominant way of communicating. In part two of this post, we will look at ways to foster this skill.

Appreciation is not ingratiation – where an underling curies favour in a transactional manner. It is more the result of experiencing empathy for others, being grateful for their contribution and gaining insights into their world. Thus appreciation is a skill that supports engagement.

So what is the quality of communication like in your key relationships? And, where it is needed, how can you move it above the horizon?

Note that the categories here are very broad. Others could be included. Do you see any major omissions?


  1. Hi Peter – thanks, I appreciate this and wonder – why do people sometimes go from above the horizon into the red zone without even thinking that there is a problem. If you turned the spectrum into a sphere then you could include degrees of mediation… ie mediation, counseling/therapy. Missed you at the weekend, sorry you had to go but I understand. We (mainly I) am thinking of running a bk1 soon and wonder if you want to accompany me/us as a tutor?
    Much love,

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