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There’s never been a more important time to switch your communication skills to ones that rival the Obamas. Here’s how.
We’ve all had that experience of going to an event or meeting and seeing a great communicator take the stage. Suddenly everyone stops checking their emails, or dozing off and the attention of the room zones in on that one person. High performance workers tend to be good communicators and even in our personal lives, good communication is a skill worth thinking about.
At ScreenCloud we talk about communication a lot. At current count, 15 of our team members are fully remote, working from cafes, home offices and beaches across Europe, Africa, Asia and North America. Good workplace communication is something we look for in new employees. But it made us wonder: what does that actually mean? Aside from being able to find your way around a Slack room, there must be more concrete evidence on characteristics that make you a good communicator in the workplace.
We looked at studies, psychology reports and a lot of Forbes articles. Here’s what we found were the common denominators when it comes to being a good communicator at work.
Researchers have broken down the characteristics of competent communicators into five areas: self-awareness, adaptability, empathy, cognitive complexity, and ethics. Which means that the best communicators start by not talking at all.
Good self-awareness is a key component of being a good communicator and actually, it’s really difficult to actively listen. This means taking in what someone’s saying and being able to listen with an ear that isn’t clouded by your own expectations and judgements.
We found that great communicators listen and intercept meaning and this means that they aren’t always the loudest people in the room. Something I’ve been trying to do is listen and encourage others to speak more than I speak myself when we’re in small group meetings. If you’re someone who feels like they have lots of ideas to share (guilty) this is really hard. But without hearing more from a mix of team members, we get locked in an echo chamber of our own making. Active listening helps ease communication and gets more voices heard.
Some of my favorite days of the month at ScreenCloud are the ones where we have our All Hands. This is an all company meeting where our three Founders, David, Luke and Mark, present on company topics like the state of our product, figures or where we’re heading as a company.
Importantly, we don’t just get blasted with a load of company figures and targets. That would be pretty boring after a while.
Instead, they take the time to tell us stories that help to illustrate key messages. We’ve learned how “passing the ball” in sports helps us as a team to take and give responsibility, why building an automaton is similar to building a product, what it looks like to row in the same direction, physically, on an actual rowing team and many more anecdotes that let us buy into the bigger picture.
Particularly when you’re trying to communicate effectively with a global workforce, stories help with communication. When you think about it, Apple never sold us a computer they sold us a way of life. Nike didn’t go in on the features of its new trainers, it told us the person we might become if we wear them. This is the difference between great communication and telling someone what to do.
It’s become a bit of a cliche, but what Maya Angelou said still rings true: “People will forget what you said and did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
The best communicators are the ones who take us along with them. Recently, I was privy to a training video with a big consultancy company trying to help a team of retail branch managers to get on board with a new sales strategy. The guy presenting asks the audience, “who thinks they can do 5% sales this year”. A few hands go up. “No come on,” he says, “who really thinks they can do 5%, let’s see your hands in the air”. More hands go up. He says, getting really passionate now, “let me see all of your hands in the air, let me see them”.
Once everyone puts their hands up, he cries “look at that, you all believe you can do 5% sales this year, let’s do it”!
How motivated and inspired do you think those audience members really felt? My guess is, not much. We can all be coerced and backed into making a decision or standing behind an idea but if our heart and soul isn’t it, the journey’s going to be long and painful.
The Latin root word of emotion and motivation is “movere”. It’s no secret that “to move” is the basis of both emotion and motivation. To bring people along with you, great communicators are able to help people to feel the experience.
Technology has changed the way we communicate. Many in the workplace remember days where email was the sole form of communication. Now we use all different types of tools for effective communication, with email making up just part of the pie. Getting to grips with different types of tools and ways of working is less about knowing the intricacies of Slack etiquette and more about adaptability and how you approach it.
To adopt a new tool you’ll likely have to ask questions. This requires emotional intelligence and you may even make mistakes, which takes confidence and modesty.
Many internal communication strategies today are focused on how workplaces can communicate better within a diverse, multi-generational workforce. Someone who can take on new tools and ways of communication and who isn’t afraid to throw what has “always been the way” out of the window, will adapt and ultimately, thrive.
Ever had that experience where someone is telling you a story but you just don’t feel like they’re telling the truth? You might see this more in children, where they say their homework’s done, but they can’t meet your eyes, or they’re shifting around awkwardly. Children just have less experience than us when it comes to lying, but as an adult and a professional, what we say can still be affected by our subconscious and the signals that slip through. For example, if your board has asked you to give a presentation that you don’t really believe in, or you have to paint over some bad figures which might well lead to redundancies, your staff are going to sense something’s up.
If you’ve ever had a dog, you may realize just how many unconscious signals you give out. My dog hates being left at home while I go out. This means anything from me standing up, to putting on perfume, to looking at a bag on the floor will make him jump up and run to the door, hoping he’ll get to come with me.
All day long, we’re giving out tiny signals in our actions, the way we stand and even the way we speak, that our colleagues are picking up on.
If your signals aren’t congruent with your message, you’ll be heard but not believed.
Can you tick all of the five characteristics off and are there any you think should be added? Let us know over on Twitter @ScreenCloud and if you like this post, we’d love for you to email it to one person who you think it might resonate with.
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