Six Simple Strategies to Engage Listeners and Maximize Outcomes
Have you noticed that some leaders understand how to instill confidence in others and empower them to succeed, while others lack that magic touch? Learn how to improve outcomes and create communication-friendly cultures.
February 27, 2012
When the office line rang at 6 p.m. on a Saturday, against my better judgment, I picked up the phone. It was a client with a problem. One of his partners was accused of mismanaging money. While it appeared to have nothing to do with any of his firm’s clients, he said he wasn’t sure what to say if people found out. I asked him if he had contacted his customers — some of whom had been clients for 30 years. He said no. When I asked why not, he said he was afraid that they wouldn’t trust him anymore and would take their business elsewhere. To which I replied, if the clients found out that he knew something was amiss and didn’t communicate with them, they would never trust him again and would leave his firm anyway.
Having a problem that may affect others and hoping people don’t find out is not a good strategy. Being truthful, proactive, telling people as much as you can as often as you can and letting them know what you are doing to fix the problem is the single most effective way to protect your reputation.
As a former reporter who covered my fair share of highly publicized scandals, the first two questions I always asked were ones I knew viewers would ask:
As a media colleague once said, “People will forgive a screw-up, but they won’t forgive a cover-up.” Yet even the most reputable companies continue to underestimate the emotional reaction of their audiences. If you’re not talking, someone else is, which means they’re defining you, your company and your unintended message. In today’s Twitter-like environment, that’s akin to jumping out of an airplane without a parachute.
I have been a communications coach for 16 years, yet the rules of my past life as a television news reporter still apply to anyone who has to communicate internally or externally about their products, services, issues, or ideas. Communicating is not about talking. It’s about engaging in meaningful dialogue that facilitates understanding and creates connections with your listeners. For example, if you are delivering a financial presentation and want to engage the audience, showing a bunch of graphs and balance sheets on a slide won’t do it. Numbers, like pictures, need to create a compelling story that draws listeners in and helps them understand how the information affects them and why they should care about it.
Yet, even top-tier managers will privately admit they are not sure how to deliver more effective, data-packed talks that contain fewer slides and details. They acknowledge that their presentations are too long, lack personality and often fail to provide perspective, context or direction. They reveal that this is the way it’s always been done and if they do it differently, they might not be taken seriously. On the contrary, when you combine facts with emotional appeal, you have a better chance of influencing listeners and maximizing outcomes.
Think of listeners as friends. When you speak with your friends, you are typically conversational and animated. If your friend is having a tough time, you’re naturally concerned and empathetic. If you want to earn trust and understanding, then humanizing information and communicating with heart is essential. Here are six simple steps to take:
In today’s uncertain times, it’s more important to be direct, honest, acknowledge fears, show empathy and continually communicate through as many channels as possible to minimize stress, confusion and misinformation.
A communication-rich culture is a relationship-rich culture in which people are always a priority. Your ability to communicate that to them through what you say and don’t say will create an environment in which people feel valued both professionally and personally. Earning their trust is a constant commitment in good times and in bad times, but clear, constant and open communication will pay huge dividends.
Karen Friedman is a professional communication coach, speaker and chief improvement officer at Karen Friedman Enterprises. She authored Shut Up and Say Something: Business Communication Strategies to Overcome Challenges and Influence Listeners, and won the Enterprising Woman of the Year Award and the 2012 Leadership Institute’s Woman With Purpose. Don’t miss her keynote presentation at the upcoming AICPA Controllers Workshop.