3 PRINCIPLES TO COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY DURING UNCERTAINTY
Over the past few weeks, I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has asked “what are the best tactics to communicate effectively during this time of ongoing uncertainty?” The short answer is that there are dozens of tactics you can use right now. The more important answer is that unless you first accept and adopt some very important principles, those tactics will be useless, or worse, they will look like tricks or techniques and undermine your impact. In this blog, I’ll share the three most important principles for communicating effectively at this time; principles that I have returned to every single day since COVID began.
The quality of your communication is the response you get
At the start of any virtual session with a leadership team, I politely ask each attendee to turn their PC camera on – even if it’s a large cohort. Consciously and unconsciously, this allows me to scan their faces during our session to see if what I’m saying is resonating. If I get the sense that something’s not landing well, I can adapt my communication until I achieve the right impact.
It wasn’t always this way. In the early days, when something didn’t land with an audience, my first reaction was to blame them. I would say things to myself like; “I was really well prepared, clear in my messages and effective in my communication style. They weren’t very open. In fact, they were quite defensive. Some of them were even playing with their phones. They had no intention of engaging!” Of course, these thoughts were driven by my own fears and insecurities, and none of them were particularly helpful to me or them.
About 12 years ago, I arrived at a more helpful conclusion; the quality of my communication is the response I get. If the audience doesn’t engage with my communication, that’s 100% my problem. It’s a challenging principle, but a completely empowering one, particularly during a period of great uncertainty. When we take responsibility for the impact of our communication, we have the power to adapt until we get the outcome we want. It means we’re in charge and we always have options.
People don’t want more communication; they want meaningful communication
You’ve likely heard the old aphorism “say it, say it, and say it again.” Many of us were raised on the idea that repetition is the essence of communication. This has not been my experience at all. Most of us are overwhelmed by the barrage of communication we face on a daily basis. We don’t want more communication; we want meaningful communication.
We want context and meaning to navigate our world right now, not more noise. We want communication that speaks to our deepest feelings; our hopes and dreams, our fears and concerns. We want communication to focus on the things that we care deeply about.
Your audience will always pay attention to the messages that matter to them. You can say the same thing ten times, if it’s not meaningful to them, repetition won’t save you. But if you say something just once, that’s really meaningful to your audience, they may remember it for the rest of their lives. Figure out what is most meaningful to your audience right now, and focus your communication on that.
People will tolerate your conclusions, but they will only act on their own conclusions
Many leaders feel an extra sense of responsibility right now, to be driving and motivating their people through this period of uncertainty. The challenge arrives when this noble intention translates into “telling and selling.” If you consistently find yourself pushing and pitching your thoughts to your audience, then chances are that you are highly motivated, but they are not.
When we tell someone what to do, their response will likely be somewhere between passive compliance and open resistance. But if we allow people to see what we see; they will often come to the same conclusions we have. And now they will take action because they want to.
That is because people will tolerate the conclusions of others, but they will only act on their own conclusions. If you want compliance, make conclusions. If you want commitment, allow others to see what you see. If your logic is sound and your motive is pure, then they will typically come to the same conclusions you have; only now they own those conclusions.
I hope this blog enables you to communicate with renewed impact, right at the time when your stakeholders need it most.
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