Do you have standards or guidelines for how you want your people to communicate? Do they know what’s expected of them when they’re in front of clients or talking to their teams? Have you posted a playbook or provided reference tools?
At the risk of sounding cheeky, if you said no, why not?
My motto has long been “communication is the currency of success” -- simply put, it's how we get things done. More specifically, we communicate in order to serve customers and clients, to manage and motivate, to persuade and sell and to inform. It’s how we build careers and businesses. It’s not enough to simply broadcast a set of words or dump a load of information; we need to do it thoughtfully and strategically.
We assume that the smart, experienced, competent, engaging professionals we hire can also communicate well, which is a reasonable assumption. Communicating is something everyone does -- it's kind of like breathing, right? Well, not exactly. It turns out audiences -- customers, clients, suppliers, partners, etc. -- have short attention spans, busy minds and agendas of their own. So, communicating and actually getting through to others requires careful attention.
To that end, let’s consider what a smart communication playbook might look like. Here are the top three items I would be sure to include:
If we were to have only one principle for communication, I would choose audience-centricity above all else. Being audience-centric versus ego-centric means putting the audience’s needs, interests and overall experience ahead of our own. Audience-centricity calls for us to prepare our communications by thinking more deeply about the audience and asking ourselves things like, "What do they really and truly care about?” (think beyond the stated topic), and “Have they chosen to be in the room or are they forced to be there?” (huge difference in terms of how we use our time).
Audience-centricity may sound perfectly reasonable and logical, but in reality, how many of us are as audience-centric as we should be? If we’re the ones communicating, we’re typically the subject matter expert. We have our own needs, interests and agenda in mind, so we run with it. The fact is, we don’t stop often enough to consider the short attention spans, busy minds and personal agendas of our audiences. If we did, we’d be brief and to the point, we’d be clear and organized and we'd answer our audiences’ agendas or their what’s-in-it-for-me desires. But we don’t always do that, do we?
Making a concerted effort to be audience-centric would automatically impose brevity on our communications (always a good thing!). It would compel us to be more engaged with our audiences, ask more questions, listen better and encourage more dialogue. We would also be driven to make our points sharp, clear and retainable. It’s not enough to just communicate, we need to leave our audiences with something of value that they can remember.
We live in a world where, because of increased access to information and an abundance of openness and sharing, not only is total transparency a universal expectation, but our audiences can sniff it out when we’re not completely forthcoming.
Regardless of where you come down on the cries of fake news and alternative facts in today’s political discourse, you are discerning for yourself what’s real and what’s not, who’s being truthful and who’s being misleading. We are conditioned to view the communications of others through a new and improved, highly sensitive 21st-century transparency filter.
It’s no different in business. Business is built on relationships, and the key ingredients of those relationships are reliability, credibility and trust. When we consider the delicacy of trust, it implores us to be as transparent as possible at all times. Transparency in a business setting means being as open and honest with emotions and beliefs (e.g., excitement, concerns, reluctance) as we are with information (e.g., costs, successes, mistakes).
Transparency can be a valuable preemptive strike against conflict and misunderstanding with our important audiences, both internal and external. And it is a communication practice that is best modeled and enforced from the top.
Things like winning, losing, criticism, praise, competition, rivalry, failure and success are all commonplace. While the primal, gladiator-gawking, blood-and-gore spectator instinct resides in all of us, and some may find mud-slinging fun and entertaining, there’s really nothing quite like taking and staying on the high road.
Whether we’re on the winning end or the losing end of a business transaction, it’s best to avoid being a gloating winner or a resentful loser. Being a gracious winner doesn’t mean you temper your excitement, but it does mean you’re kind and complimentary of your opponents. Being a gracious loser doesn’t mean you pretend not to be disappointed (or crushed, as the case may be), but it does mean you are accepting, perhaps reflective and congratulatory to the winners.
In the case of fielding criticism, being defensive is understandable and so it tends to be our go-to. Graciousness means we avoid being defensive; instead, we remain open, own what is real and true and then use the feedback to improve.
It’s a small world, and paths cross in different ways along the roads of our careers. It's best to keep those roads as high as possible. Graciousness always sounds better -- again, internally and externally -- than the alternative.
Communication happens in a variety of venues, from delivering a keynote to running a meeting and everything in between. There are turns at the podium, standup presentations in conference rooms, proposals, pitches, emails and phone calls. We exchange words and ideas more often than we exchange money. Communication is literally the currency we exchange to realize success. Having a playbook or some standards in place, therefore, can go a long way toward building individual and organizational reputations and triumphs.