Gina London: 'Always on' approach to communicating is vital
Most successful professionals work to stay at the top of their business skill sets, but haven't made a concerted effort to learn - and consistently practice - top communication techniques. Learning and deploying deliberate, positive non-verbal communication is often overlooked in favour of technical skills early in executives' careers. The result is a swathe of leaders who struggle to convey confidence, authority and, perhaps most importantly of all, approachability, rapport and affability throughout their working lives.
Effective and encouraging leadership communication consists of learning specific skills that simply do not come naturally. Yet, these are critical to motivating and inspiring a workforce and must be taught by an expert. Today, I'd like to re-examine a range of foundational and trainable skills.
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Eye contact is one of the most direct and powerful ways a leader can communicate but there are other, more nuanced aspects to non-verbal communication that can help set you apart. Paralanguage, for example, covers the tone and quality of voice, pitch, pacing of speech, and sounds such as sighs or grunts. It was once referred to as 'the music of communication' by Michael McCaskey, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Harvard Business School.
1 become a 'leader communicator': To be a 'leader communicator', you need to adopt an 'always on' mentality. Remember, you are always communicating. Even if you don't use your voice, employees watch you constantly and you are always communicating something to them.
For instance, consider how you sit and listen during a meeting when someone else is presenting. Are you leaning forward and nodding to demonstrate understanding and approval, or are you slouched in your seat with your arms folded? Make no mistake, it sends an incredibly powerful message to others in the room.
This is a simplistic, but common example of poor non-verbal communication in the workplace. The solution, on the other hand, is anything but simple.
2 Adopt the AIM approach: This is not just for large, formal presentations. It should be deployed every time you communicate on a professional level such as weekly meetings, conference calls or chats at the coffee machine. Begin the moment you enter the office environment.
AUDIENCE: your audience or stakeholder analysis will inform the following two points and should therefore be performed first. Who is listening? What are their hopes, dreams and fears in relation to what you might say? Executives should consider this process as preparing the soil before sowing the seed. If you don't complete this step properly, your message may fall on deaf ears.
INTENT: this point is often overlooked. The purpose of a communications event is never to simply 'inform'. You want to move your audience towards some sort of action, also known as 'intent'. What do you really want the audience to do once you've finished speaking? You must define this with razor-sharp accuracy.
MESSAGE: only when you have completed the two steps above should you move on to message development. Content that is clearly created with specific audiences and intentions in mind will be much more motivating and engaging.
We are inspired by the inspiring, so deliberately deploying enhanced paralinguistic and body language techniques in your delivery will have a positive impact on your audience.
3 Make these four corrections: I've identified four common mistakes committed by business leaders throughout the country.
First, business leaders are unaware of the importance of strategic communication. Don't just read a book on the subject. Get a hands-on training session from an expert. Developing master-level executive presence demands real 'stand and deliver' performance training,
Second, business leaders often believe they have strategic communication covered and don't need any help. But everyone can improve. Ask someone who can tell you the truth or get an expert to record your next communications or leadership meeting. Review that recording with an expert, analyse your performance and identify areas for improvement.
Third, business leaders who received strategic communications training often don't invest in empowering their senior leadership team. Yet, all leaders should ensure that the full leadership team is unified. Do you have to attend all board meetings or high-level prospect meetings with your direct reports? If so, they should receive strategic training also, so you're comfortable with them flying solo and speaking on your behalf.
Lastly, strategic communication training too often isn't offered to the entire organisation. Starting at entry level, provide this training to all employees. This will create a buzz and deliver a morale boost that infuses the organisation with energy while increasing productivity.
4 Commit to practise: While there's a lot to learn on embedding positive non-verbal cues in your daily life, it can be difficult to change your body language without your gestures seeming contrived. The key is practise. No-one plays a concert after one piano lesson. Likewise, when you first begin consciously using expressions, gestures or postures to enhance your communications delivery, you may feel awkward. Focus on one element at a time. Learning to actively engage your body as part of delivering more powerful and engaging communications may seem uncomfortable at first, but it's worth the effort.
- Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon. Write to Gina care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie
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