What’s so important about communication? Plenty! Nothing happens of any significance in local, national or global commerce without it. Effective, persuasive and clear communication skills drive the personal, economic and government — read regulatory — engine of the most powerful nation on Earth: ours.
For the corporate executive especially, every aspect of his or her career is affected by whether, and how accurately, messages are sent and received which create relationship and accomplish task.
In Mississippi, no less than Manhattan, all business success is built on “good commo” — our ability to initiate, receive, decode and respond to the signals of others, and they to ours. This is a skillset we cannot ignore — each of us employs it well or badly, every business day.
Start with this thought: Any successful human effort is built on strong relationships! Those lacking good, consistent communication either wither and cease or go stale and die. Companies, marriages, governments are born when two or more people with the same idea connect, strike an agreement and go forward together. Helping this dynamic is our own human nature, for man is a most social animal, fond of the “herd” in most cultures, but — the America emerging over the last couple of centuries is becoming an exception to this rule.
We are now a nation of entrepreneurs, men and women with seminal ideas for business and technology who are capable of acting more individually and independently than citizens of older nations where tradition holds sway. So our task in business communication is unique — we must rediscover the benefits of listening and consensus to better harness the strong competitive drive which impels corporate business in the USA.
No executive, no matter how brilliant, can succeed in the marketplace alone — the effort to connect for relationship as well as task isn’t always easy, either — but it can be fun!
Required of leaders
Good communication skills are also especially important for leaders in any field, forming an essential — and immediately obvious — part of the presence which we bring into any meeting.
Few professional graduate schools offer enough training in this, beyond instruction in Powerpoint — an overused tool! Negotiation strategies taught from Harvard to the West Coast often offer only mechanistic push-and-pull techniques, which reduce colleagues and potential clients into situational opponents or objects for manipulation. Since when is communication a war game? And why make it one?
The spark of positive connection happens, if it happens at all, as a one-on-one dynamic. A single individual speaks to a group, an audience, a nation. The listeners hear, discuss and decide — one person at a time!
FDR, the only president ever elected to four consecutive terms, mastered the skill of intimate psychological connection and persuasion with a huge group to harness a nation for the most massive industrial effort ever seen on Earth, during World War II. In his weekly wartime fireside radio chats, he proved such a strong motivator for corporate and personal action that the constitutional guidelines for national elections were altered after his death. His motive was to encourage and reassure the country that the global conflict was winnable, and his strong voice radiated confidence and faith into countless homes.
Few voters realized, unless they had seen him personally, that President Roosevelt sat in a wheelchair to make his broadcasts. Such was his spirit, projected in his powerful words, that no hint of his disability ever came through. So gifted was Roosevelt in communicating his trustworthy leadership across America that Congress correctly feared his successors would misuse their own skills to make a dictatorship of personality in the presidency.
One man’s skills — and right motive in using them — are part of the reason America is free today. As FDR demonstrated during the many crises his administration weathered before and during the war, there is no greater challenge or means of influence for a leader in any realm than the task of good communication — and his own ability and choice to do it well.
It was fortunate for the nation and for history that this one man’s motives were good, for there is an ethic involved. For that kind of trust and connection to take place and for acceptance of our proposals to occur, the listener must perceive that we intend him — and his own situation — at least equal benefit with ours. Not even a professional actor can consistently maintain an ungenuine — read predatory — approach to clients and business partners over the long term, without giving away clear clues that there is a fox in the henhouse, for those alert to see them. (Unless, as in some cases, there is a predator in ours as well!)
Lasting, successful business and personal communication starts from the speaker’s honest intent to see others profit as well as ourselves. This is far more obvious than one might think.
Many subtle cues, coming straight from the unconscious, either affirm our goodwill in a business meeting or betray our lack of it, and nothing in the event is ever accidental for the presenter: every spoken verb, vocal tone and casual gesture is chosen at some level, frequently below his conscious awareness. But the clues we give are not hidden from the astute observer as he “decodes.”
Two minutes in a first-time, face-to-face encounter, and the direction of the discussion is established, like the launch trajectory of a rocket at Cape Kennedy. You have left the pad, for good or ill, and are going somewhere together. A few more minutes in a strategic meeting, and the basis for your listener’s later action is now set: he’s begun to decide what he will ultimately do. His thinking is based on two single factors which are unconnected with the substance of your talk, no matter how promising the numbers, design, or investment opportunity may be which you are offering him.
In a first-time encounter, the listener and his colleagues have decided to trust you personally or not, and to accept and believe that your intent is positive — or otherwise. Creation of mutual human trust is at the core of this exchange, and in every communication setting when agreement is desired.
Without it, you may still get some action and a business partnership may begin, but the ties are far more fragile and can set the stage for dissolution and/or litigation, down the road. A project which is entirely numbers-dependent, in the absence of this trust, can be volatile indeed. The relationship task, if not done at the outset, and done with the clearly perceived will that your listener should reap rewards as well, dooms your effort to fail.
Acceptance and trust
To sum up: authentic, powerful communication in any setting where persuasion occurs will always involve gaining and maintaining clear, consistent acceptance and trust from others.
The art of persuasion is not really an art at all — it is a science based on core motives which are not exploitative, but which seek to capitalize on potential profit of some type for all parties involved. It is neither a combat nor a contest, but what the old Romans called “communicare” — a coming together in likeness of mind and motives, creating a “common mind” and going together in a new, agreed direction for mutual benefit.
For villages, states, nations and certainly companies to operate with stability and success over time, this must be a given among at least most of the major movers involved. This includes not only team leaders but the rank and file voters, employees and constituents of any large organization or group. It becomes, for large companies, a community process in which the welfare of all is dependent on the degree of buy-in: to one another’s good will and to the project at hand.
The idea of coming together or starting joint efforts for mutual good has inspirited industries such as insurance, banking, manufacturing, farming and many others over the course of civilization, and no less so in Mississippi today.
Good communication, based on trust and real intent to work together, successfully conveyed, is what happens in a state when the budget gets balanced, and in a corporation when the shareholders know they can trust the CEO.
Don’t you wish more folks would practice it?
Contact guest columnist Linda T. Berry of Jackson-based LBA International via e-mail at LBAInternl@aol.com.