February 14, 2012

The Masters of Communication

Mary MahoneyBY Mary Mahoney

J. Robinson Group Blog

Great business communicators want to create change and they are not afraid to say so.

Why are some leaders considered so charismatic, inspirational, persuasive and just downright magnetic?  Powerful communication is key.

The most successful leaders manage to find that sweet spot between engaging others and creating shared meaning and understanding. They embody highly developed verbal and non-verbal skills, from body language to tone of voice. They also prepare very diligently for every major meeting, interview, presentation and speech.

Consider former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a master communicator, orator and expert of the written word. His World War II speeches inspired his country and the free world. This was by no means happenstance; it was due to meticulous preparation. Churchill worked diligently at crafting strategic messages, rehearsing them repeatedly for maximum impact.

He also was a very visible leader. By regularly visiting factories and bomb-damaged streets, he boosted the public’s morale and leveraged the press to extend his message, further communicating his inspirational leadership.

Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. influenced the entire way we view freedom and equality. King was an incredible leader and activist, but why was he so effective? He wasn’t the only African-American leader of the day or the only one to suffer prejudice and racial discrimination in a pre-civil rights America.

The answer is, in part, his ability to communicate. He captured people’s imagination and painted a picture of how things could be. He inspired and influenced audiences when he spoke, making them want to take action.

Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple Computer, radiated charisma, capturing the hearts — and wallets — of thousands of “Mac faithful” customers and employees. A key to his success was his zeal to change the world.  People found it intoxicating.

Great business communicators want to create change and they are not afraid to say so. When interviewing then-Pepsi President John Sculley for the role of Apple chief executive, Jobs asked him, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?”

Perhaps the most known primer on effective communication is Dale Carnegie’s bestselling book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Financial success, Carnegie believed, is 15 percent due to professional knowledge and 85 percent due to “the ability to express ideas, to assume leadership and to arouse enthusiasm among people.” 

Carnegie’s approach was to teach people how to relate to other people and make them feel important and appreciated, not criticized or manipulated. He emphasized fundamental techniques for winning people over including seeing others’ point of view, admitting mistakes, saying “thank you” and remembering peoples’ names.

Great business communicators also respond to employee concerns by answering emails, holding lunchtime chats and communicating regularly and consistently companywide.

Cisco Systems, Inc., the $40 billion technology company based in San Jose, Calif., has created a culture of open communication with its more than 63,000 employees. John Chambers, the company’s chairman and chief executive officer, employs several tactics to ensure his organization stays connected.

Six times a year, he hosts “birthday chats” when Cisco employees celebrating birthdays are invited to meet him face-to-face.  He’ll listen and respond to the most hard-driving questions and later post the recorded chats on Cisco’s intranet for all employees to hear.

The company also communicates with employees through blogs, takes regular “pulse” surveys and uses videoconferencing to bring staff from around the globe together in one virtual room.

While Cisco can apply its own technology to foster two-way communication, even the modestly tech-savvy have access to a myriad of communication channels: emails, voicemails, memos, newsletters, blogs, podcasts, chat rooms, TV, video conferencing, instant messaging systems, employee meetings, focus groups, brown bag lunches, social events and social media.

Although communication can be a complex and overwhelming process, it is critical to organizational success. It is pivotal in socialization, decision-making, problem-solving and change management. The benefits are many,including well-informed employees who are aligned with the company’s mission, higher productivity and ultimately, a stronger bottom line.

In my upcoming posts, I’ll explore the changing landscape of communication, the proliferation of social media as well as crisis communication for reputation management.

February 7, 2012

The Power of Effective Communication

Mary MahoneyBY Mary Mahoney

J. Robinson Group Blog

“The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.” — Tony Robbins

Many of us learned a valuable lesson about communication as kids when we played the “telephone game:” We told a simple story to a friend, who repeated it to another.  By the time the story reached the last person, it bore little resemblance to the original.

Isn’t that lesson just common sense, that people are capable of interpreting things quite differently from one another?

Perhaps, but consider the assumptions we make in business when we communicate to our clients, employees, suppliers and other key audiences.  Don’t we simply expect everyone to understand what we mean?  Don’t we expect our intentions to be abundantly self-evident?

Consider how long it must have taken this manager to construct such a complex thought and how few people ever will understand what it means:

“The core team is different than a steering committee in that its vision is more based on self-managing teams and alignment within the core contributors from each of the stakeholder teams, but without the need for senior leaders to be present for some potential approval.”

Great business communicators speak in clear and simple terms. This may be precisely why Jack Welch, corporate icon and former chairman and chief executive officer of General Electric, was legendary for demanding simplicity in written and verbal communications.

Welch was passionate about crafting and articulating his vision in direct terms to achieve concurrence. There was no place for clutter and jargon in a Welch business meeting. He would ask his managers to pretend they were talking to high school students, to focus on the basics.

Business Dictionary defines communication as a two-way process in which participants not only exchange information, but also create “shared meaning and understanding.” Yet, most people seem to define communication as “getting your point across.”

Gail Fairhurst, management consultant and professor of communication at the University of Cincinnati, believes too many leaders today “take communication for granted, dismissing it as something they do automatically.”

In her book, “The Power of Framing: Creating the Language of Leadership,” Fairhurst contends such leaders assume their messages always are received and understood when, in fact, they are not.

To be an effective manager and create a “shared reality,” she writes, there is nothing more critical than understanding how to frame an issue so that you are effectively communicating and motivating in a culturally sensitive manner.

Edward Bailey’s The Plain English Approach to Business Writing is peppered with examples of what he calls “businessese, bureaucratese and legalese” including this brainteaser:

“Each application shall be supported by a comprehensive letter of explanation in duplicate.  This letter shall set forth all the facts required to present to this office a complete disclosure of the transaction.”

Bailey decodes this enigma, rewriting it to say:

“You must send us the following:

  • One copy of your application
  • Two copies of a letter explaining the complete details of your transaction”

Effective communication represents a critically important way for businesses to increase customer satisfaction, engender trust and ensure employees get their jobs done properly.

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins goes as far as saying, “The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.”

In my next post, I’ll look at some of the masters of communication and how they leveraged their powerful communication skills to command attention and connect to their audiences.

Latest Blogs