Have you ever walked back to your office after a meeting and thought to yourself, “What a waste of time!” Through the course of our professional lives this experience happens far too frequently. The loss of productivity due to managers and employees not communicating effectively with each other or to their clients is something we experience every day. This realization became crystal clear to me after many years of executive sales management and coaching. After working with many different types of professionals from executives in large publically traded companies, to owners running and operating small businesses, I realized that there was universal need for better communication in the workplace.
Ask yourself, why is it that with the vast amount of educational information on communication that is readily available does there still remain a great divide between what we know – and have studied – and what we do on a daily basis? I believe this is because the majority of information and training programs today treat communication as a skill. If you Google “communication skills” you will get 194 million results. These results run the gambit from online skills training courses, to books and workshops, to academic publications. The single theme that unifies all of them is their approach that effective communication is about doing not being. Let’s break it down.
A Focus on Doing
Skills are an interesting thing. The act of becoming skilled in something requires a significant investment of time and learning. In the 1970’s, Noel Burch captured the four stages of the process of learning at Gordon Training International. This is an important process to understand, as all communicators go through it!
The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. The individual may deny the usefulness of the skill. Critical step: The individual must recognise their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill.
The individual does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill, but does not understand or know how to practice the skill. Critical step: The individual makes mistakes and seeks to identify a “better way”.
The individual understands or knows the skill. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires attention or concentration. Critical step: The individual seeks to hone the fundamentals so tasks require progressively less concentration.
The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become easy. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. Critical Step: Ongoing exploration of the task is required to maintain competence, as over time competence might reduce.
The nature of skills development suggests it is only possible through practice coupled with trial and error. Many books and courses seek to shorten the trial and error period through presentation of best practices, however, the fact remains that without constant practice on the part of the individual, the competence of the skill will be difficult to attain and maintain over time.
Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers” postulated that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery of any skill. 10,000 hours represents five years of doing a task eight hours a day every day. This is simply a monumental feat for anyone in today’s fast paced society of five-minute attention spans. The investment required highlights why mastery of any skill – let alone effective communication – is so difficult. It isn’t enough to simply know what needs to be done; one has to do it… constantly.
Given that practicing to this level of consistency is required for communication mastery, and that most of us don’t have the will or discipline to do it, it is reasonable to throw up your hands and say we are simply stuck with poor communication in our professional life. I would suggest otherwise.
Personal experience reveals that every one of us, daily, practices communication skills and ideas subconsciously without effort. In my own life, there are many skills that I practice unknowingly because they are united by a goal that is greater than the mere end result of successful application of the skill. For example, when one asks questions and listens actively to a friend who is having an issue, one is using the communication skills of listening and probing for information.
The reason for doing so is because of the value placed on the relationship. The skill is merely the tool for expressing the value. When we communicate from a place of value, we do so as if its second nature, because it is.
Beyond Doing – Turning a Skill into a Value
Effective communicators, independent of what business they are in, are able to enhance communication by treating communication as a personal value. It is this expression of their personal values that represent who they are, not what they do. Naturally the question arises – “So how do you make a skill a value?”
Here are five things you can do, or consider, in your professional career, to turn communication into a value!
1. The Purpose of communication is to connect
At its most fundamental level the reason we communicate with each other is to connect. It is core to our society and humanity. Seek first to connect and THEN engage the listener in your message.
2. Recognize that you are likely not the centre of your listeners’ life
Many communicators assume that listeners are ready to hear their message. The classic example is the manager who launches into a staff meeting and is oblivious to the blank stares coming back at him. Before beginning any communication, seek to first understand if there is noise that may affect your ability to connect. Ask yourself – are people stressed about something, is the physical environment suited to your communication, etc.
3. Identify and connect appropriately with your listeners
Not all listeners are the same. How you communicate and connect with your close friends and family can be fundamentally different than how you communicate with your colleagues and customers. Recognizing how you create connection is just as important as the content of your message. For example, when dealing with customers and employees, remember that individuals want to be respected. If they feel this is the case, they will be much more receptive to your message.
4. Your personality might be the problem
If you find that communicating is tough, more often than not the problem may be yours. Everyone has a different perspective on communicating with others.
This is the result of your beliefs, experiences, and societal expectations. Understanding these personality traits and then trying to adapt them in your quest to connect with your listener will greatly help the reception of your message.
5. Energy is key
Let’s face it; you simply can’t connect with people if you are boring or un-energetic. People instinctively connect with passion. When they see authentic passion, it is infectious, like smiling. Seek to energize your messages and people will connect with them and take your ideas to new heights.
Communication Makes Great Business Sense
I began this article discussing the huge productivity losses that are evident when individuals and leaders do not communicate effectively. As a business leader it is important to quantify the return that is possible through turning communication from a skill into a value. Needless to say this can be quite challenging, but it is definitely possible. In my own experience in leading teams and organizations, I have considered the following ways to quantify the return to the organization for this effort.
Employee ratings of their engagement with the firm’s values, management, strategy etc. Engaged employees represent a successful “values first” view to communication. Managers authentically communicating vision, strategy, tactics etc., directly translates to more predictable and beneficial results.
Customer Satisfaction ratings for customer service personnel – are employees more concerned about connecting with the customer first , to help facilitate a successful customer service experience?
I encourage you to consider this new way of looking at communication in your organization and with your clients. You will greatly increase the ROI of all your communications and meetings due to the compelling value that will energize your team. Your customers will benefit as well, as their connection to your company and brand grows and translates to business growth and increased shareholder returns. Effective Communication like any skill is more about being than doing.
By Joe Connelly
Joe Connelly is co-author and co-founder of The Nine Prophecies Inc. The Nine Prophecies Inc. is a worldwide training and coaching organization geared towards enabling positive change in people’s personal and professional lives. The above article is based on the new book The First Prophecy: Communication. Joe can be reached at joe@TheNineProphecies.com, or