The art of communication is the language of leadership. Every time you have to speak, you are auditioning for leadership.
James C Humes, author and former presidential speechwriter
Communication is, indeed, an art. And the good news is, no matter whether you think you are an excellent, average or poor communicator, an appreciation of the diverse communication styles and preferences of others, will help you become a more flexible and effective communicator.
In this article, I share some insights on communication I’ve gleaned after more than 30 years in the professional communication business as a marketer, speech writer, editor, author, publisher and public relations specialist. I’ll also give you some techniques and tips on how you can be become more persuasive and influential in your business world and personal life.
Insight 1: Communication affects the quality of your relationships
As human beings, communication is the basis of all interactions and essential to forming relationships. If you want to cultivate business relationships based on trust, the responsiveness, authenticity and transparency of your communication is fundamental to achieving this outcome.
Insight 2: You are your brand and by extension, you create your reputation
You have a business brand and a personal brand; however, with the rise of the internet and social media, the line between these two is now blurred.
Think what you say on your personal Facebook page doesn’t impact your business brand? It’s now common place to Google someone before making a decision to do business with or hire them. Search results don’t just reveal where people are active on business platforms.
While you may think you are projecting a particular business brand image on LinkedIn for example, it’s possible others have a very different view of your brand based on the opinions they have formed by what they have observed you communicate across the broad spectrum of online platforms.
You can’t buy your reputation, it must be earned. While your reputation is built over time, it is fragile and easily damaged. Perception being reality, your reputation, quite simply, is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.
You can help shape this perception by becoming a more effective communicator and projecting a consistent brand image across platforms. Decide how you want to be perceived, then communicate and be that, always.
Insight 3: You’re communicating even when you think you’re not
Communication is not just about talking—your non-verbal language communicates more than your verbal message. In the 1970s, psychology professor Albert Mehrabian put forward a theory which suggested that around 55 per cent of the impact of communication comes from body language, 35 per cent from tonality and other vocalisations, and up to 10 per cent from actual content, the words used.
Every phone call you don’t return, every email you don’t respond to is sending a message. The person expecting the phone call or email is probably wondering why there’s a lack of communication: Are they too busy? Am I not important enough? Am I not on their priority list? If your website indicates your business prides itself on customer service but you don’t return phone calls or don’t respond to emails for a week, there could be a mismatch between a person’s expectations of customer service and the perceived standard of customer service you provide. You are always communicating, even when you think you’re not.
Insight 4: The effectiveness of communication is the response that it gets
The response our communication gets is feedback on how effective it is. Knowing this is empowering because we can choose to change our communication based on this feedback in order to elicit a different response.
Types of communication
There are three components that make up face-to-face communication. These are:
In business, we can spend most our time refining our key message—the words we want to convey—but not give enough attention to our paralanguage and body language. Based on professor Mehrabian’s model, with up to 90 per cent of the impact coming from non-verbal communication, perhaps it’s time to consider a more holistic approach to your delivery.
One of the most effective (and simplest) things you can apply right now to become a more effective communicator is use what is known as “command tonality” rather than “questioning tonality”. I first learned the power of command tonality when I did my teacher training many years ago. It requires a downward inflection at the end of a statement. It is a more powerful way of delivering a message. Questionning tonality, on the other hand, has an upward inflection at the end of a statement as though a question is being asked. Its impact is not as strong as command tonality because it sounds like the speaker is unconfident or uncertain about their content.
The process of communication
Communication occurs when a person wants to send a message to another person or group of people. The sender will encode the message into words, symbols or pictures, then convey the message via a selected medium (for example, verbally, by telephone, via email, in a blog, newsletter, on social media) to the intended recipient who then decodes the message into thoughts, images and emotions that makes sense to them.
When the message is decoded as the sender intended, the communication has been effective.
But, as George Bernard Shaw rightfully put:
Communication…the single biggest problem is the illusion that it has taken place.
There is much wisdom in this Shavian witicism. People process information differently based on their personal experiences, beliefs, values and attitudes, so you can’t assume that your message has been interpreted as you intended.
Three keys to effective communication
Key 1: Be congruent with your verbal and non-verbal language
For communication to be effective, there must be alignment between what you say, how you say it and your body language. If there is match between your verbal and non-verbal language, the meaning of your communication will more likely be received as you intended by all who received it.
Key 2: Be flexible to preferred sensory modalities
We experience the world through our senses—seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting, and our sensory preferences influence our preferred language type. Some people are more visually oriented while others are more auditory or kinaeasthetically oriented. These sensory preferences influence the words we use. Visually-oriented people will use words associated with seeing, auditory-oriented people will use words associated with hearing and kinaesthetically-oriented people will use words associated with touch.
To illustrate, “I understand” could translate as follows:
When speaking with someone, the idea is to adapt your language to appeal to their sensory preference. Therefore, paint word pictures for the visual people, play a tuneful song for the auditory people and touch the hearts and minds of the kinaesthetic people.
Key 3 Communicate with people how they want to be communicated with
DISC® is an excellent model to better understand different styles of communication and how you can adapt your own behavior to improve the effectiveness of your communication with others.
Below is a snapshot of the four DISC® behavioral types.
D – Dominance
D types are decisive, blunt, strong-willed, competitive, demanding, assertive.
Ds are driven by the need to win and their greatest fear is loss of control.
I – Influence
I types are sociable, talkative, open, enthusiastic, energetic and persuasive.
Is are driven by a need to be liked and their greatest fear is social rejection
S – Steadiness
S types are steady, careful, patient, trustworthy, cooperative and modest.
Ss are driven by a need to be comfortable and their greatest fear is loss of stability.
C – Conscientiousness
C types are precise, logical, careful, formal, disciplined, detailed, love facts and proof.
C types are driven by the need to be right (correct) and their greatest fear is criticism of their work.
Following are some tips on how to communicate with the four behavioural types.
How to communicate with a D – the language of power and authority
Focus on the topic.
Get bogged down in detail.
Take issues personally.
Some verbal and non-verbal ideas for communicating with a D:
‘I would like to meet with you today or tomorrow.’
Maintain eye contact
‘What do you want and when do you need it by?’
Stay neutral to their facial expressions
‘I think the best way to resolve this issue is by….’
Use steady and strong tone of voice
‘What’s your decision?’
Use a posture of intent, maintain an assertive personal space
How to communicate with an I – the language of optimism and inclusiveness
Maintain a positive atmosphere.
Take time to chat and express ideas.
Focus on people needs.
Think big picture.
Be too quick.
Shut down chit chat
Focus on the negative
Be too process driven
Set too many rules.
Some verbal and non-verbal ideas for communicating with an I:
‘What’s your opinion on how this could be best achieved?’
‘Who do think should be invited?’
‘What’s the ideal outcome you would like to achieve?’
Use animated gestures
‘Let’s have a brainstorm to gather everyone’s different ideas.’
Can move around while talking
How to communicate with an S – the language of stability and certainty
Proceed in a sequential order.
Find out true needs.
Give examples to reduce uncertainty.
Be fair – level playing field for all.
Make sudden changes.
Be scant on information.
Go too fast.
Some verbal and non-verbal ideas for communicating with an S:
‘How would you like to proceed?’
Show genuine interest.
‘Here are the key steps involved. First this, then that…’
Use calming voice tone and good eye contact.
‘Here are some previous examples of how this has been done in the past.’
Use “open” body language.
‘I want you to be involved in the planning from the start to the finish.’
Welcome them into group settings.
How to communicate with a C – the language of precision and logic
Give all the details.
Speak clearly and slowly.
Focus on the key issues.
Rationally consider options
Be too fast.
Be impatient for a decision.
Focus on chit chat.
Enter personal space
Some verbal and non-verbal ideas for communicating with a C:
‘Here’s some additional information you might be interested in to help with your decision.’
Keep personal space larger.
‘What do you think are the key benefits of your preferred option?’
Be attentive, keeping voice calm and quiet.
‘What are the pros and cons of the various options?’
Listen for any apprehension and adjust accordingly.
‘Take your time to think things over and let’s meet again a week from now.’
Don’t show gestures that imply impatience eg. rolling of the eyes
Tops tips on being an effective communicator
Below are some of my top tips on how you can apply the above information to become a more persuasive and influential communicator.
Be clear on the outcome you want
communicate with volition, have a purpose, know your intention, know the response you seek
be interested, be present to others
Be a good listener
be curious, be silent, clarify and summarise
Ensure congruence between verbal and non-verbal language
align your words, tonality and body language
Be authoritative and confident
use command tonality not questioning tonality, believe in what you say, impart certainty, credibility and self-assuredness
Be flexible to preferred sensory language types
choose your words to match the preferred language types of others
Adapt your behaviour to the communication style of others
apply behavioural flexibility to communicate with others how they want to be communicated with