The importance of communication has made it one of the most fundamental tools anyone and in particular leaders need to master in order to achieve their goals and also the topic of today’s post.
A very popular quote regarding action is that:
Done is better than perfect. – Sheryl Sandberg
While we all try to say the things in the best way we can, we should also remember that we cannot remain silent in the pursuit of perfection:
Said is better than perfect.
If our eyes are the windows to our soul, our mouth is the door to our mind (and stomach).
There is a Chinese quote about the effect of kind and harmful words, which I could explain as:
Kind words, even if heard in cold winter, will always be warm. Harmful words, even if heard in hot summer, will always be cold.
The most important functions of communication are:
To build social bonds: We can meet new people through a conversation and can maintain existing relationships through communication. Internet has made it easier for us to communicate, especially with people who are far away from us. We can now establish relationships independent of geographical location and time zones.
To communicate a message: We can communicate either to entertain, persuade or inform. For example, Ellen Degeneres talks to make us laugh, Barack Obama gave speeches to persuade the public to vote for him; an employee informs his/her superiors about work progress.
To help / fulfill information needs of people: Employees often want to know what managers are planning and what the company’s objectives are. By providing the appropriate information or motivation, we can say precisely that which someone needs to overcome a challenge and go on. Communicating can be as cheap as saying some words, but when used correctly, it can be of immense value.
Communicating and not communicating
While communication is essential, there are times it is better to remain silent. Silence can, in the right circumstances, be like silver or gold. Sometimes we do not need to communicate for the sake of communicating.
Like traffic, for the proper functioning of the system, there needs to be a red light that stops certain kinds of communication and let other kinds go on. As an ex-consultant in M&A transactions, I appreciate the value of confidentiality. Leaking certain secrets can be harmful for a person, a company and even a country.
Just as we should take into account the need to communicate, we must also respect secrecy and the moments of non-communication. When the CEO of my company wants to make a confidential call, I leave and do not ask what is going on. Sometimes not communicating certain information is the best option for both parties.
There are some secrets only you should know and that’s not only your bank account or credit cards’ secret code. Likewise, you do not need to know how someone behaved when he/she was drunk, or inquire deep into someone’s dreams. Respect their privacy. It is best when people are not overly pushy with communication.
When to communicate?
The exact time in which we communicate has an influence on the perception of the audience. Common sense tells us that communicating business related messages late in the evening may not be ideal. At that time, people’s concentration is almost gone.
The same occurs when people are hungry. It might be better to have a meeting after all participants have had lunch instead of conducting an ineffective meeting where everyone is thinking about what and where to go to eat.
Sometimes communication needs to be strategic. For example, we once had a team member leaving us before a project was completed. We decided to communicate to the entire team only after the project was successfully completed to avoid unnecessary worries and instability from the rest of the team.
Internet has undoubtedly helped optimise many of our communication processes, e.g. I can write an e-mail whenever I have time, and you can read it whenever you have time. The same happens with videos and articles. There are several tools that enable us to save articles to read later, among others: Pocket, Instapaper, Readability.
Ideal communication circumstance
Ideally we communicate when the following two factors are given:
- Something to say: You need / have something to say to the world. Do not keep silence when what you have to say will have a impact in the world. For instance, if you know that a plan in the company won’t work out, don’t stay silent, say it loud and repeat it if it is not heard the first time.
- People want/need to hear it: People need or want to hear from you. Someone has a lust of information or someone is expecting to hear from you. For instance, I look forward to hearing from people I miss or I am thinking about. I leave them messages in the hopes of hearing back.
Clean up the communication
Just as we need to clean up our rooms, we should also take a moment to clean up our communication. Here are three things we should avoid:
Aggressive words: There are always several ways to express a same idea. Do we really need to use aggressive words? Do we want a fight? Do we have so much energy? Our head of sales at Clueda AG is one of the best examples of how to wonderfully deal with people who are angry and use aggressive communication. He has been yelled several times, but he always replies calmly: “It will not help at all if you keep on yelling, but we can find a solution together.” Rather than using an aggressive approach, use a positive and constructive attitude.
NO: Saying “no” too often can keep you away from many ideas, people and things. Think about why great salespeople often say yes. It helps to connect with people. Saying no and avoiding new/different people, new/different ideas might feel good in the short term, but it will definitely harm in the long run. The best way to keep people away is by saying “no” often enough. Instead of rejecting, first understand what is being proposed.
Hypocrisy: Let’s say good-bye to hypocrisy. If you think it will work well in the moment, in the long run it will be useless. It is like a pill with secondary effects. Do not make compliments if you don’t truly think so. Let everything you communicate come from the heart. Be real and authentic. The message will then become powerful and extremely contagious.
What to communicate?
Communication is most useful when we include:
Stories: People love stories. We are inspired by them. People read stories for entertainment. Guess why people are still reading novels despite modern busyness and lack of time. Kindle is not the only reason people are reading more; it is our intrinsic motivation to hear a story. Is there a plot? A beginning and an end? Are there heroes or princesses?
Relevant information: The busier people are, the less time they have to think about other people. It is about them, what is in for them? Can the information be of use to the audience, either in the present or in the future? Can the information help them do their jobs better, perform better?
Solutions: Problems are everywhere and that makes place for solutions. Everybody needs solutions and you and I both know it.
How to communicate?
We can communicate through a variety of ways:
Words: The first communication tool that comes to mind are words. Some people might be neglecting its power after reading research that over 65 percent of communication is done nonverbally. However, in certain circumstances, they are just too powerful to ignore. For example, see the witty words said by lateral thinkers or read the emotional post written by Vic Gundotra, creator and former head of Google+.
Pictures: Pictures are universal and go beyond language boundaries. Anyone can recognise a smiling face or an apple even if we do not know its name in a certain language. Some pictures are abstract and open for interpretation. Pictures are perhaps one of the best tools for our imagination.
Body language: Studies have pointed to the importance of body language and I have lived it personally multiple instances in my life. For example, when I just arrived in Bolivia and could not say a word of Spanish other than “leche” (milk), I used body language to communicate with people, and before I was aware of how I was expressing myself, I was already making friends. Our entire body can express emotions and one of the best recommendations I have heard is to let our eyes smile for us.
Music: I am not talking about the mere lyrics here, which I would classify as words, especially in situations where a novice singer makes it sound more like reading than singing, as I did for quite a long time. I am talking about instrumental music or background music. It is emotional to listen to music, but it is even more emotional to play it.
For example, by looking at how a leader behaves, we know what is expected from others, without the need of explanation; that is what we all know as leading by example.
To communicate effectively, it not only helps to repeat a message twice or more, but also to combine different communication channels. What about using words, pictures and actions or using words and body language to communicate an emotion?
The question of how to communicate is also related to the length of the exchange. Studies show that online written content work best when they contain over 1500 words and this is quite consistent in as diverse platforms as LinkedIn or Medium.
Quality is, however, the most crucial aspect. Length can depend on the purpose of the communication and is closely related to the personality of the communicator. For instance, I can easily give a Toastmaster-like public speech of around 5 minutes.
Most finance models work best when following the KISS principle: Keep it Sophistically Simple. We can also use a similar principle for communication, particularly when people’s attention spans are decreasing.
KISS: Keep it Short and Simple.
With whom to communicate?
You can and should communicate with whomever you have a message for and / or whoever needs to hear from you, but do not forget to communicate with:
Family and friends: We should communicate regularly with them; they are the people who matter most at the end of the day. Sometimes talking about small things, such as what you ate and what you did can keep your relationship tight and warm.
Team: Team members love to receive feedback. Strengthen communication especially when something was well done. No one gets tired of praises.
Yourself: There is self-improvement, self-management, and there should also be self-communication. I am not suggesting we talk aloud to ourselves, which might make some people think we are ill (even if done in measure, it is healthy). I refer to understanding and listening to ourselves, e.g. by writing diaries. This is also one of the key points from the book The Artist’s Way. You cannot ignore the person with whom you spend the most time with.
Communication is a basic need, a leadership skill, and above all, an art. We have all being doing it since our birth, yet it still takes practice and the right approach to do it well. So keep on communicating and keep getting better at it.
Remember also that the word communication comes from the latin communicare, which means to share. So if you enjoyed this article and want to put it into practice, share this post with the world.