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Want success? Master communication!

Published: Friday, May 05, 2017

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Words by Peter Switzer

I know some really deep and emotionally grounded people might find what I’m about to say galling but, if you want to be a success in the eyes and ears of other people, then you should think about yourself as a business!

The power of communication can never be underestimated if you want to get a job, earn a promotion, lead others — employees or loved ones — and build a successful business or personal brand.

One of the craziest compliments I’ve heard business owners give themselves is that they are “the best kept secret!” That’s virtually saying “we’re great but our marketing sucks!”

All this came back to me when I saw some scripts the Australian Tax Office had sent me for some recordings linked to upcoming changes to superannuation due to kick in on July 1.

I was talking to my chief financial planner, Dave Hardman, about how good the communication was from a body that, in the past, was sometimes hard for the ordinary taxpayer and small business owner to understand.

Dave actually said that the tax office website had gone ahead in leaps and bounds in respect to the calibre of its communication. And he’d know because it’s his bread and butter to know what the tax rules are for issues connected to hip pocket decisions he makes for our clients.

The little chat got me thinking about how crucial communication is to how people regard you or your business.

Let’s face it: our Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has had a communication challenge and he’s seemingly lifting his game but if we gave him a school report, the comment would be: “Improving, but needs to show more effort.”

And while Scott Morrison’s Budget next Tuesday has to pass the sensible economics test, if he wants to pass the so-called “pub test”, which seems to be far more important nowadays, he better come with a great communication piece.

He will also have to do a great communication job with the crossbenchers in the Senate or this Budget will end up being another apparent waste of time, chock-full of ‘zombie measures’ that never get passed!

American Clifford N. Lazarus — a licensed psychologist and Director of The Lazarus Institute — writing on the Psychology Today website, looked at the Simple Keys to Effective Communication way back in 2011. He argues communication is at the heart of lots of life failures and, therefore, it has to be crucial for success.

“Everyone communicates in one way or another, but very few people have mastered the skill of truly effective communication,” he concluded.

“Breakdowns in communication occur all too often and usually lead to a wide range of social problems, from hurt feelings and anger to divorce and even violence.”

Well, that puts the importance of communication into perspective.

He rightfully contends that “communication is both an expressive, message-sending, and a receptive, message-receiving, process.” 

So getting communication right should be a goal for everyone who wants to help themselves, as well as others, which is a pretty decent goal, wouldn’t you think?

Lazarus says effective expressive communication can be pulled off by doing the following:

  • Use eye contact to get the attention of the people with whom you want to communicate.
  • Make sure your verbal and nonverbal dimensions are consistent and clearly communicated. It’s about congruency, so your tone and volume are important. Even if you’re not happy, it’s OK to show it but don’t go crazy and yell and insult, as it turns off the recipient.
  • Be direct and avoid pussyfooting — give it to them straight.
  • Be wise enough to ask for feedback to make sure your recipient didn’t get the wrong message. The interpretation of people of what I might have said has always confounded me, and I bet you too!
  • Lazarus insists that you “face the message sender and maintain eye contact.”
  • Show physically that you’re actively listening to what your communication target is saying back to you.
  • Avoid interrupting to get your point of view across.
  • Ask for clarifications to ensure your complete understanding of the other person’s view.
  • And Lazarus reminded me of Inspector Colombo when he advised to “paraphrase” what the other person has said. The TV detective Colombo would always listen intently to a possible suspect in a crime and he would say something like: “Now let’s make sure I’ve got this right…” and “Just one more thing…”

His qualities of listening, thinking and engaging his possible suspect was communication at a high distinction level.

Great communication is at the core of great business marketing. Individuals trying to create relationships or trying to build their personal brand are, in all reality, in the marketing caper.

Some time ago, I interviewed my old ad mate, Siimon Reynolds, who insisted that everything you do in business is marketing.

“Everything from the way you answer the phone, to the way you talk to your staff and to your customers is all marketing.”

And that’s why I say to anyone who wants help to lift their personal brand that they should think of themselves as a business. A few weeks back, I talked about a YOU plan, which effectively said SWOT yourself like a smart business leader does. 

By being realistic about your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, you can draw up a productive business plan. Similarly, by doing a SWOT on your communication calibre, remembering that it is virtually sending out marketing messages about you as an employee, a contractor, a business, a team player and as a person, it becomes so obvious that you really have to become a communication expert.

But as Colombo would say: “Just one more thing.” 

US leadership expert John Maxwell has written a book with the great title — Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently.

Most of us prefer someone who connects with us and it explains why the greats of radio and TV command such big audiences. Their less successful rivals are good communicators but they’re not greater connectors.

When you master communication and connection, you will be marketing yourself like a true business champion and I reckon success will come knock, knock, knocking on your door.

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