We recently hosted a visit from a senior leader and I had the opportunity to meet him first thing in the morning to represent our team. We had a great story to tell about the purpose of our business unit and our strategic imperatives. The leader seemed engaged throughout the conversation and I felt the discussion went quite well. I expected a response along the lines of “Your team is doing great work and you are focusing on the right areas.” However, no such appreciation was forthcoming. Perhaps he’s just not liberal with praise, I thought.
The day went on and the leader’s agenda included visits to many of our labs where he had detailed discussions with employees about the projects they were working on. When I sat down with him for a wrap-up in the evening, he told me that he was impressed with the capability of the team and felt that we were doing some great work, but could not connect to what our strategic imperatives were and how we were identifying our priorities. I was taken aback. Hadn’t he heard anything I said in that morning’s meeting? Instead of reacting negatively, I dived back into the discussion we had in the morning. Interestingly, this time it elicited a “Wow!” He was delighted to hear the story, felt that we were focusing on the right levers and was able to relate to the conversation. He was finally able to connect our strategy with what the employees were working on and the examples they had shared during the day.
This experience left me wondering about my own communication skills. Did I not say it right the first time? Was I not focused on the key messages? Was I not clear in my articulation? As I reflected on these things, I realized that in both the meetings I had used exactly the same messages, strategic imperatives and focus areas. However, when we met in the evening, this person had the advantage of relating our discussion to the experience he had had through the day, so it became “real” for him. He could connect to them right away. The conversation had become more than bullet points in a power point presentation. So, I learnt my biggest lesson in communication – In a successful transfer of information, the sender makes the message “real” for the receiver.
Let’s explore how we can make every interaction “real”.
· Tell a story — stories are memorable. A well told story can inspire and energize. It connects immediately with the audience.
· Create experiences and not reviews. We get so carried away trying to impress senior leaders in review meetings that we forget to give them an experience.
· Build a connection. Data helps in building a solid case. Using logic and rationale helps in bringing credibility to the message, but does it help in connecting with the audience? Rarely. One builds a connection only through an emotional appeal.
· Is it only about sharing your thoughts? Don’t underestimate the power of listening. One can overcome significant resistance and break through the barriers, only by listening.
· Research says that 85% of the message gets shared by non-verbal channels of communication — body language and tone of voice. Interestingly, content is only 15% of the overall message. Our body subconsciously reflects what is going on in our mind. By becoming more aware of body language and understanding what it might mean, one can learn to communicate effectively. Here are a few things which make a difference — posture, eye contact, gestures with hands and arms, tone of voice.
The ability to communicate effectively is becoming more and more critical in this hyper-connected world. One can not only share information but share opportunities, energize, connect and align people and organizations. Let’s not share messages, but make others feel it. Make it “real” for them.