We live in a world of muddled messages. Politicians step on themselves to clarify missteps. Sports stars crank up the non-apology apology machine. Employers alienate their staff by reciting lawyerly pabulum to avoid litigation. And parents demonstrate the opposite of what they tell their children.
We send messages we don’t intend, and we hear things that weren’t meant. This disease of miscommunication and misunderstanding is not new, and we all succumb at some point.
I once delivered a conference presentation on some of the greatest research the home improvement industry has ever seen. I’m not a bad public speaker, but on this day, the slides didn’t work, my mouth malfunctioned, and my knowledge of the research was less than golden. At the end, the entire audience was in the fog of confusion, but none of them were as confused as I.
It gets worse.
I was the host for the conference, and I had to follow myself to the podium to introduce the next speaker, who was a top-notch pro. Before I brought him up, I reminded the audience to fill out their evaluation sheets so that we could ensure the previous speaker (me) never cast shadow on that stage again.
We all have our horror stories, but we can all define our messages with greater care and avoid the unintended meaning. We can implement strategies to make our communication – whether marketing, advertising, or employee manuals – clear and concise and without ambiguity.
And if we can define our messages, we can establish ourselves as leaders. I once worked for a very smart, very direct person who became quite powerful in the corporation. His simple gift was that he could cut through all the crap and put his finger on the one or two most salient points in any strategy. That clarity, that ability to jettison the distractions, gave him a focus that made other people want to follow. When he talked, heads in the room nodded up and down.
That skill is such a common experience among successful people that it underlies 3 of the 7 habits Stephen Covey identified in his groundbreaking “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” #2: Begin with the end in mind. #3: Put first things first. #5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Define your message and you can become the leader. Your message may be a personal message that establishes goals and articulates strategies to position you as a team leader. Your message may be a corporate brand that states your values and vision as a business, making you an industry or market leader. The underlying keys to success for both internal and external communication are the same.
- Listen to your audience
- Keep it simple
- Say it clearly
- Use it consistently
- Make it logical
- Appeal to common sense