A few years ago I attended a two-week executive course at Wharton Business School in the States. On the first evening, all 40 delegates gathered together and the professor leading the course asked us to form a circle. We were told to look around and then introduce ourselves to the person we were least likely to talk to over the next two weeks because, based upon appearances alone, we’d already assessed who we had least in common with.
We formed groups of two and ran through the same exercise again until eventually we had four teams of ten very diverse people. We then spent the next two weeks working together, solving a series of issues and learning more about each other than we could ever imagine, including some very honest discussions about we worked together. The message from the professor was: “The one thing we are never taught at school is how to communicate and get the best out of each other. Yet, in business and in life, it’s the most important skill you need”.
This two-week course was one of my biggest learning experiences and puts communication right at the top of the skills you need for business (and life). It’s a process I’m still learning.
So here are my top ten tips on smarter communication:
1. You’ve only communicated successfully when you’ve checked your message was received and understood in the way it was intended.
2. Tailor your message to the audience, illustrating for them: “What does this mean to me?”
3. Never forget that people digest information in different ways. Use a combination of graphics, sound, smell, touch and the written word.
4. Energy and passion are often more effective than content alone. Content without passion will die on the vine.
5. Keep it simple. Our attention spans are short. With marketing communications, my test is: “Does an eight-year old understand it?” When my kids were young, I’d test things out on them to see if they got it quickly.
6. Repetition does more good than harm. A message delivered once usually fails.
7. Listen and learn. If you’re always communicating, there’s little time for feedback
8. Engage and involve. We all “buy in” far better if we’ve contributed to the decision-making process
9. Watch out for Chinese Whispers. A poor cascade process can distort the original message beyond all recognition.
10. Actions speak louder than words. Hopefully the politicians will one day realise that a good speech is not a job well done. It’s just the start.
And finally, a favorite Chinese proverb of mine that sums up much of the above: “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand”.