communication skills

4 Essential Steps to a Clear Compelling Message

During difficult times it’s even more important that everyone in the company knows exactly where the company is headed and the reasons behind strategic decisions, in order to feel energised and motivated to contribute their best and make sure the business goals are achieved. Communication is the only vehicle that allows all employees to understand this vision and direction, which may be why my newsletter subscribers consistently place effective communication at the top of their list of priorities.

As a manager your role is to act as a conduit for information; ensuring that your team has a clear understanding of the company’s way forward and all the information that they need to be effective in their job.

When you think about any communication you need to be structured and consider:

  • What are the key messages that need to be delivered?
  • What are the best ways to deliver the messages to the individual or team?
  • How will this be achieved?
  • How will you measure the effectiveness of the communication?

Think of someone you know who is outstanding at delivering clear and compelling messages.

  • What makes their communications so effective?
  • How do they choose the medium through which to communicate?
  • What is it about their personal style that works for you?

I look forward to hearing your comments.

7 Simple Steps to Getting Heard in Meetings

The Apprentice in the UK has come to an end for another year. While I don’t take the programme too seriously in relation to real business, I am fascinated to observe the dynamics between the candidates and between the candidates and Lord Sugar and his panel. Having heard how Susan felt undermined due to her age, and seen Tom’s strategy of politely raising his hand in an effort to be heard, I have been giving more thought to how to get heard in meetings.

  • Are you ever in meetings where everyone is talking over you?
  • Do you feel frustrated that you aren’t getting credit for your ideas and suggestions?
  • Do you hang back like someone waiting to jump in at skipping?

Here are my quick tips for becoming a key contributor whose input is seen as invaluable:

  1. Listen – This probably isn’t what you want to hear (see what I did there? :-)) This doesn’t mean staying silent and passive. It means listening effectively so you can find ways to link your point to others. Rather than focussing on what you want to say, just make a few bullet points as notes and then turn your attention to listening to others. When you acknowledge and build on what others have contributed they are more likely to return the favour.
  2. Try holding up your hand – I know Tom from the Apprentice tried this with apparently little affect. This could have been because he did it in an eager school boy way. It doesn’t do to be reaching as high as possible, whilst still sitting on your seat and saying “me, me, me!” Okay a slight exaggeration. Try holding up your hand more like a stop signal and saying “I would like to say something”
  3. Interrupt – If the person doing the talking is long winded and moving off topic, everyone will be very grateful if you interrupt and say something like “can I stop you there and just summarise where we are up to?” Or “Can I make sure we are all clear about the point you’re making.”
  4. If they interrupt – and you aren’t the person being long winded and moving off topic, say firmly “Please let me finish.”
  5. Speak with clarity and confidence. – You will come across as having more gravitas and credibility if you slow down, think before you speak and ensure you don’t sound tentative. Others tend to dismiss people who appear to lack confidence.
  6. Ditch the language that undermines your message – If I had a pound for every time I hear someone, usually women, start their point with “This might sound silly but….” Or “This might be just me but…” Aargh! You might as well just say, don’t bother listening to what I’m about to tell you because even I don’t value it.
  7. Learn from experience – Think about the times when your communication has had the desired effect, when you have been listened to, when you have commanded attention and been acknowledged for your input. What did you do? What did you say? What was happening around you? What helped? Now just rinse and repeat! 🙂

Let me know how you get on and if there’s anything I can help you with.

Do you have the courage to stand up and be counted?

Journalists are definitely not flavour of the month here in the UK, and Johann Hari has made errors of judgement himself recently (though nothing to do with phone hacking.) However, when I saw him give this talk on 5th July, I felt compelled to share it with you as an impressive example of outstanding leadership and effective communication.

Leaders know what they stand for and aren’t afraid to stand up for it. Johann Hari makes a compelling case for freedom of speech particularly in the face of religious fundamentalism, and delivers it with courage and passion.

He also demonstrates another key leadership skill. He is not afraid to share his vulnerability by owning up to mistakes and errors of judgement even though it’s uncomfortable.

With phone hacking, super-injunctions, and twitter privacy all hitting the headlines recently this speech is particularly pertinent. I urge you to pay attention to both the content and the process and note what it evokes in you. It’s 15 mins long so take a break, grab a coffee and prepare to be moved.

If it speaks to your heart, what is it about the way Hari delivers his message that works for you? If it evokes a different reaction, why is that? What can you learn from this that will help you communicate with passion and influence in the future? I’d love to hear your comments.

How to Talk So People Listen

If a manager’s job is to motivate people toward achieving a common goal then succeeding at this, requires a whole range of communication skills, ranging from delivering prepared talks to engaging teams in change initiatives, to supporting individuals to overcome obstacles.

A survey of recruiters by the University of Pittsburg’s Katz Business School identified that communication skills were the most decisive factor in recruiting new managers. The survey went on to assert that communication skills, along with relationship skills were the main contributors to job success.

So what is effective communication? It’s all about sending and receiving messages as clearly, unambiguously and with as little distortion as possible. Communication is successful when both the sender and the receiver share the same understanding of the message.

Here are some suggestions to help you achieve that:

  • Identify the key messages to be delivered
  • Factor in the diverse needs of different audiences
  • Choose the most appropriate media to get your message across
  • Consider how to measure the effectiveness of your communication

What do you do to make sure you get your message across clearly and effectively?

Why Leaders Become Derailed

Much research (for example by Daniel Goleman and Lombardo and Eichinger) has been carried out as to why leaders end up seriously underperforming or being fired and it’s rarely down to lack of business acumen or technical expertise.

The reasons leaders become derailed include:

Overused strengths. When a strength is overused it becomes a weakness. Imagine someone who is really driven to perform but is so competitive that he steps on everyone to get where he wants to go.

Over Confidence. When confidence becomes complacency or even arrogance it can cause problems. Great leaders are also great learners. Once the learning stops, leaders, their people and their businesses stop growing and developing. Who can afford to stagnate in this day and age?

Lack of self management. This links back to my previous post about knowing yourself and showing yourself, with skill. While direct reports want to know their leaders on a personal level in order to build trust, they do not feel safe and secure coping with tears or tantrums.

Poor relationship skills. Outstanding leaders don’t become outstanding on their own. They rely on building strong, productive relationships with the people around them.

Not knowing their impact on others. We learn most, not from books or courses but from our bosses. Both good bosses and bad bosses. Great leaders can see themselves through the eyes of those they interact with. They also realise that they are communicating all the time, not just through their words but even more so through their actions. Knowing this helps them chose what they are communicating, consciously and carefully.

My questions to you are:

  • Which of these elements is most likely to derail you?
  • What can you do to prevent this?

Be Yourself – Everyone Else is Taken

In their book “Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?” Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones point out that in spite of the huge demand for more effective leaders, they remain in short supply.

This is partly due to the fact that organisations across all sectors still encourage people to conform or become inauthentic role players, rather than being clear about who they are and what they stand for. This of course leads to cynical, de-motivated and disengaged followers. Another reason for the lack of good leadership is the limited knowledge across the board about what leadership is and how it can be developed. I have written here before about how leadership is a dynamic relationship that is situational. So, something that works for one leader in one context won’t work for another leader or in another context. Therefore, focusing on the characteristics of leaders or attempting to imitate great leaders just doesn’t work.  As Oscar Wilde says, “be yourself everyone else is taken!”

Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones argue that those people who aspire to be effective leaders don’t need to be fully self-aware but they do need to know enough about themselves to recognise their own personal leadership assets and how these can be deployed to best effect.

Leaders need to be able to:

  • Show their weaknesses with care
  • Tap into their intuition to judge timing and courses of action
  • Manage people with “tough empathy”
  • Reveal their differences with skill

My questions to you are:

  • Which personal weaknesses do you reveal?
  • How do you use your intuition?
  • How are you different and how can that help you?

“Happy learning!”

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