Saturday, May 14, 2011
Old News, True Impact – The Power and Skill of Excellent Communication
Technology is great and computers advance our lives and businesses. Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, Facebook and other tools create and deliver valuable information, huge networks, instant access, and much more. But our computers cannot persuade, close deals, engage, enlist, inspire, persuade, recruit, manage, handle conflicts, lead employees nor retain customers. We need actual people to do any of the above. And we need excellent communicators to do any of the above successfully. Many polls show that one of the biggest complaints in businesses is poor communication with and from management. There is still, and I argue there will always be, great added value in direct human contact with someone with great communication skills.
Jack Welch, former CEO at General Electric, looked for especially one quality in future leaders:”Somebody who is comfortable talking to anyone – anybody in the world, in New Delhi, Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, anywhere” and solve problems, interest customers, and get deals done.
Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t just have a vision, he knew how to communicate it. The words, the passion behind his words, the messages he was bringing people. What would the impact have been if Martin Luther King Jr. had said “I have a plan”, rather than “I have a dream”? King knew what words to choose and how to back up his words with his passion for his cause. The impact was tremendous.
Adolf Hitler, no matter how much I detest and condemn his beliefs and his actions and no matter how much I get sickened by just the thought of his rule and its consequences, one of his powers was his ability to convey his message through his oral skills. Hitler was a gifted orator who captivated his audiences with his, often rehearsed, display of emotion. He became adapt at telling people what they wanted to hear. Hitler is said to have perfected the delivery of his message by rehearsing in front of mirrors and carefully choreographing his display of emotions. And many people bought it, shockingly enough. Needless to say all his skills were used to accomplish horrible, hideous goals with disastrous results.
Allow me one more example, a more positive one: Warren Buffett. Apart from (or related to) being a highly successful business man and one of the wealthiest people in the world Warren Buffett is a superb communicator who has mastered the great skill of explaining complicated business and economic issues in clear and easy-to-understand language while engaging and inspiring his audience. Many of his writings and talks are eagerly anticipated, and not just by investors. People love hearing him talk.
Whether you adhere to their political views or not, the speeches of Churchill, Obama, Gandhi to name only a few are world known and inspire people for many years to come. And much of this though not all is to be credited to their excellent communication skills.
I choose not to add to the many books, post, and articles that have already been written on communication skills. There are enough of them, and some are great resources. I instead choose to focus your attention on eight conditions for excellent communication. Without these prerequisites, no matter how many specific skills and techniques you practice, it will not result in excellent communication.
The eight conditions for excellent communication:
Presence comes from within and begins with an inner state which leads to a series of external behaviors. Presence implies connecting with yourself and with your audiences. Presence requires being present in the here and now, reaching out and building relationships, expressing feelings and thoughts, and knowing and accepting yourself all while you’re communicating (and during your preparation).
Without passion for your business, your work, your people, and life in general it will be hard to become an inspiring, energizing, engaging communicator. Passion refers to a very strong emotion about a cause, a topic, a person, or a thing. Passion is an intense emotion, a compelling feeling, its beyond enthusiasm. Passion is contagious and communicates what you stand for and how strongly you stand for it.
Authenticity includes the ability to accept yourself, to be true (authentic) to yourself, and to reflect your values in your decisions and actions or better: in your ‘being’. Authenticity implies being self-knowing, not self-absorbed and it requires the courage to show yourself, and not only when you’re at your best.
The courage to step up to people, to approach anyone anywhere, to approach anything anytime (or almost anytime) and actually enjoy it – looking at difficult situations as challenges you’d like to conquer. Communication courage refers to daring to be exposed, to be out there, to make mistakes (read: be human), to be judged, and to receive criticism on your communication and your style.
Without authentic curiosity about the world and people, your communication courage won’t be of much use. Great communicators should not be confused with great egos who love to talk. As Rich de Vos states in his book “Ten Powerful Phrases for Positive People” (2008): When you enter a room, do you convey: “Hey, here I am”, or “Ah, there you are?”. Are you focused on yourself or on the other? Another advantage of curiosity is that it provides you with many stories. Stories about the lives and businesses of others. It’s well known by now that we remember things better, including talks, when there is emotion attached to the talk. Stories are one of the most effective means for eliciting emotions.
6. A Learning Mind
With this condition I refer to the willingness to make mistakes and learn from them, no matter how painful. I refer to your willingness (because ability is easy: it’s trainable) to reflect, to dissect, to elicit feedback from friends and foes about your communication your speaking style, and its effects on people. Of course this ‘learning mind’ is closely linked to courage.
As Victor Borge, Danish comedian, conductor, and pianist stated: “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people”. What is humor? There are different kinds of humor and it means different things to different people. Humor can be based on the mistakes and failings of others (or yourself), humor can be based on unexpected things that happen to us and on many other dynamics. Humor is dealing with whatever presents itself whether it be during a business meeting or a lunch lecture - Dealing with what presents itself in a relaxed and creative manner. To use humor you have to be able see things with different eyes and from different perspectives. Humor energizes employees, improves morale, reduces job stress, boosts creativity, and is one of the prerequisites for great communication. As George Bernard Shaw stated long ago: "If you’re going to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh. Otherwise, they’ll kill you."
To excel at anything you have to be willing to practice, practice, and practice, with or without a communication coach. Invest in yourself, and if you fall, you pick yourself up and continue. Learn by doing and learn by watching others do. A great resource for excellent talks and amazing speakers is the TED Conference website at www.TED.com . But most of all: master by practicing and doing!
In conclusion: What is a great idea if you can’t sell it? What is an inspiring vision if no one is listening? What is a strategy if no one is following out of lack of clear, inspiring, and motivating communication? As has been stated so often and so correctly: before people will buy any of your services or products they first have to buy you.
My question to you: can you walk into a room anytime anywhere and make things happen? Communication is impact. Communication is performance. Communication is achievement.