COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN OR BREAKTHROUGH?

Communication

Is there any other skill in life more important than the ability to communicate effectively?  Not in my opinion.  And evidently, not in Stephen Covey’s either.  In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,  the leadership guru comments on the importance of communication:

“Communication is the most important skill in life.  We spend most of our waking hours communicating.”

So, how can we become better communicators?  Below are 10 COMMANDMENTS OF COMMUNICATION I try to remember and follow.

1.  Thou Shalt…Have No Other SKILL Before Me.

In your mind, place communication into the category of “SKILLS THAT PAY THE BILLS”.  It’s important.  Like “Tiny Elvis” on Saturday Night Live says, “It’s HUUUGE, MAN.  IT’S HUUUUGE!”   The better you are, the higher you go!  Like any skill, it must be learned, though.  It’s not automatic.  Think of it this way: If you’re a farmer, you don’t sit down on your stool and wait for your cow to back up to the bucket so you can milk it.  It’s no different with the skill of communication.  To get better, you’ve got to be intentional about acquiring this skill.  You’ve gotta go after it in order to milk it for all it’s worth! (I hear the groans on that joke:)

2.  Thou Shalt…Communicate Messages With Powerful Images!

Did you know that people think in images?  That’s why word pictures are so effective.  One person described communicating as “the process of exchanging mental images.”  For example, when I say the word, “God”, I have a certain mental image that comes to my mind.  When you say the word, “God”, you also have a specific mental picture that comes to your mind.  Effective communication starts when we find common ground on what we both are ‘seeing’ when we talk about God; or any other subject, for that matter.  If you paint pictures with your words, pictures people can see in their imagination, your communication will become more memorable.  Sometimes, just using a simple visual-aid enhances your ability to “get through” in your communication.

This past weekend, I gave a talk on “The Meaning of Life”.  I’m teaching the wise sayings of a man named King Solomon.  Before the talk, I made sure everyone entering the room was given a bottle of bubbles.  I had everyone blow bubbles together.  I explained Solomon’s view that sometimes life can feel like “trying to catch floating bubbles”; frustrating if not downright impossible!  That simple visual-aid made the message easier for my audience to grasp and remember.  You can do that kind of thing as you’re communicating, too!

3.  Thou Shalt Not…Take The Name of Murphy’s Law In Vain!

Recall Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong it will go wrong!  Apply this to communicating and it says, “If anything can be misunderstood, it will be misunderstood!”  Before you communicate, ask yourself two questions: “How could the other person possibly misinterpret what I’m about to say?” and  “What can I do to minimize the possibility of misunderstanding?”

4.  Thou Shalt…Remember Timing, To Keep It Holy!

Timing is critical.  The right message at the wrong time = failure.  The right message at the right time = success.  Before you communicate, ask yourself, “Is this the best time to communicate this message to this person (group)?”  How can you use timing to make sure your message “is received”?

5.  Thou Shalt…Honor Your Audience!

The fastest way to ruin a communication is to dishonor the person(s) you’re communicating to.  Where did we ever get the idea that we could make people do better by making them feel bad?  Criticism builds walls, honor builds bridges.  Honor is power!  Find a way to authentically honor the other person(s) as you’re communicating.

6.  Thou Shalt Not…Kill The Flow of Communication!  

I’ll give you a 3 word method for killing communication: just don’t respond!  That’ll do it!  Just ignore their communication.  Refuse to listen.  Discount in your mind what they’re saying and you will effectively shut down communication.  Obviously, we don’t want to do this.  The best way to keep communication lines open is to BE RESPONSIVE.  Listen to them.  Respond to them.  Respect them.  Don’t talk down to them.  Communicate with them as if they are your equal; because they are!

7.  Thou Shalt Not…Commit Inaccuracy!

Credibility in communication is vital.  Without credibility, people may listen to you but they won’t believe you.  What is credibility?  Credibility is how much the other person(s) believes you and has confidence in you.  A sure way to lose credibility quick is to make inaccurate statements.  If people think you’re not telling the truth, or that you just don’t know what you’re talking about, they’ll tune you out.  Avoiding inaccuracy takes preparation.  Make sure you’ve spent time word-smithing statements, checking facts, re-checking sources, stats and statistics.

8.  Thou Shalt Not…Steal The Other Person’s Thunder!

Great actors know when it’s their time to shine and when it’s not.  One part of great acting is to let the other person “have the spotlight” while you support them through your presence.  Great communicators allow others to “have a great moment” in the communication.  Let’s face it, if the other person you’re communicating with isn’t participating or adding to the conversation, both of you aren’t necessary.  You might as well talk to the wall.  You don’t always have to ‘shine bright like a diamond’ (Sorry, Rihanna!)

9.  Thou Shalt Not…Forget What’s At Stake Every Time You Communicate!

Every communication is an attempt to give meaning to life.  And just as in real life, there are real consequences attached to our communications.  What’s at stake in this communication?  Why is it important?  After all, if it’s not important, why make the effort to communicate?  When you know why you’re communicating what you’re communicating, you become more passionate and involved with it.  You bring “more of yourself” into your communication.  Great communicators always leave a little bit of themselves with the other person(s) they’re communicating with.

10.  Thou Shalt…Study Great Communicators!

My father-in-law always tells me, “Brad, there’s a big difference between reading a book about horseback-riding, and being in the saddle!”  Reading books is one way to learn about communication, but “getting yourself in the saddle” is better.  Read books on Communication.  Read the biographies of Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Martin Luther King, Jr., Franklin D. Roosevelt and other historic communicators.  But don’t forget to just start communicating in order to hone yours skills.

THE WAY LEADERS THINK

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3 ‘trains-of-thought’ dominate the mind of every effective leader.  These train-tracks of thought typify THE WAY LEADERS THINK.  First…

1)  Leaders think SUCCESS!

What’s typically on an effective leader’s mind?  The answer: What they WANT (Their definition of success).  They obsess over their version of success.  Whether their definition includes “doing what pleases God”, “making a certain amount of money”, or “becoming a certain kind of person”, they DESIRE SUCCESS, DEFINE SUCCESS, DESCRIBE SUCCESS AND DELIVER SUCCESS.

Effective leaders constantly ask this question, “What’s My New Story?”

These leaders know that one of the secrets of successful people is that they work to keep their mind focused on the things they do want and off the things they don’t want.   

By their very nature, leaders are future-oriented.  They are pulled  toward their destiny by “a compelling vision of some ideal future state” they believe can become reality; indeed, that they believe MUST become reality!  They look beyond the way things are to the way things can be.  These leaders understand that each of us “lives within a story”.  Some people’s story goes like this, “Why is life so unfair?  I’m a victim!”  Other people’s story sounds like this, “When will I ever catch a break?  I’m so unlucky!”  Still others have written their story to read like a who-done-it, “Who can I blame for my lack of success?  It’s not my fault!”

But as I recently learned from John G. Miller, author of the best-selling book, QBQ: The Question Behind the Question (http://www.amazon.com/QBQ-Question-Behind-Practicing-Accountability/dp/014305709X), effective leaders don’t ask Why, When or Who.  They ask, “What?”  Specifically, “What’s my new story?”  They write their own script of how they want their life to be, how they want to feel, what they want to have.  Just like a “persistent-child”, effective leaders keep the bulls-eye of success on their frontal lobe.  So, what’s your new story?  Go ahead and give yourself permission to write it.  Draft the script for the future you truly want.

Secondly…

2) Leaders think PROCESS! –  They ask, “What’s My Next Step?”

They identify THE WILL, THE SKILL, THE BILL, and THE THRILL of accomplishing success as they’ve defined it in their new story.  They ask, “Okay, now that I know what I want, what’s my very next step?”  They motivate themselves by answering 4 important process questions.

THE EFFORT QUESTION: THE WILL…How much effort (willpower + energy) will I need to put forth to achieve success?  Am I willing to do this?

THE EXPERTISE QUESTION: THE SKILL…What skills will I need to develop to achieve success?  Where or from whom can I learn these skills?  Can I pull this off?

THE EXPENSE QUESTION: THE BILL…What will achieving success really cost me, in terms of time, money, relationships, health, etc?  Every goal brings with it a bill, a check that needs to be paid.  As Henry David Thoreau said, “…the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run”

THE EXPERIENCE QUESTION: THE THRILL…What will be my reward for achieving this goal? What will success finally feel like, smell like, taste like, be like when I achieve it?  Leaders contemplate these questions constantly to “find a way to reach their goals”.

Thirdly…

3) Leaders think PROGRESS! – They ask, “What’s My Now Status?”

Effective leaders know the wisdom of what Winston Churchill reportedly quipped, “However beautiful the strategy, one should occasionally look at the results.”  These leaders set up guard-rails and key-performance indicators by which they measure how far they’ve come and how far they still have to go.  They stand back to evaluate their progress, measuring what steps they must take to reach their destination.

As I study and observe great and not-so-great leaders, these 3 “trains-of-thought” continue to surface in answer to the question of what dominates the thinking time of effective leaders.

What have you observed?  What do great leaders think about?  What questions do they ask?  What occupies their minds?

I’d love to hear from you.

YOU MIGHT BE A WEAK LEADER IF…

Let me just apologize to comedian Jeff Foxworthy up front because I’m going to rip off his idea here (You Might Be A Redneck If…) and use it to discuss leadership.  I’m from the South.  I love a good redneck joke.  But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.  What I’d like to discuss is how you can know if your leadership with others is strengthening or weakening; specifically, how you can know whether or not you’re a weak leader.  Track with me here.

YOU MIGHT BE A WEAK LEADER IF…

You’re seeking LESS RESPONSIBILITY.  In your current situation are you actively seeking to assume more responsibility or less?  In your family, on your job, out with friends, or during your leisure time, are you looking for ways that you can prepare yourself to accept greater levels of responsibility?  I’ve discovered that the way I answer that question reveals which direction my leadership is moving.  Leaders usually find themselves leading because they have moved toward responsibility not away from it.  Let’s face it, the average person these days isn’t looking for more ways to be responsible.  At least not as I observe the current state of our culture.  The great masses of humanity don’t want to deal with the consequences and pressure of being responsible.  Yet, growing leaders know Winston Churchill was right when he said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.”  I’m not talking here about taking on more tasks or merely adding “stuff” to your to-do list.  That’s “doing” not “leading”!  I’m talking about stepping up to be the person who makes sure “it all gets done in a timely manner”.  Are you the go-to guy/girl?

You’re accepting LITTLE RISK.  Leadership is risky business.  You might make people unhappy (Check that…YOU WILL MAKE PEOPLE UNHAPPY).  Every decision may not work out successfully.  Followers, supporters, customers and even family and friends may bail on you just when you need them the most.  It’s risky “putting yourself out there”.  Yet, true leaders know that they must be willing and able to handle an appropriate amount of risk.  With risk comes uncertainty.  With uncertainty comes anxiety.  With anxiety comes stress.  These all make “taking the lead” a risk.  But risk is an unavoidable part of leading people and enterprises.  As Pastor Rick Warren says, “You’ve got to be willing to crawl out on the limb, because that’s where the fruit is.”  Are you accepting risks in your leadership or avoiding them?

You’re choosing paths of LEAST RESISTANCE.  I dislike conflict.  Who doesn’t?  Conflict is uncomfortable and potentially harmful.  I prefer unity.  But we all know that when we step up to take on leadership roles we’re signing a conflict contract.  Or maybe you didn’t know it or expect it, but you find yourself needing to handle it anyway (If you’re responsible:)  Weak leaders do not understand the difference between being a “Peace-Keeper” and being a “Peace-Maker”.  Peace-Keepers will do anything to avoid the unpleasantness that comes along with conflict.  Peace-Makers, on the other hand, realize that part of their ability to help those they lead is to assist them in navigating this “messy” area of relationships.  Are you a “Peace-Keeper” or “Peace-Maker”?  Weak leaders are “Peace-Keepers”.

You’re operating with LIMITED REQUIREMENTS.  Michael Jordan once said, “You’ve got to expect things of yourself before you can do them.”  I agree.  Standards are key.  If you value excellence, then you hold yourself to a high standard of living, working and being.  What is expected is normally what get’s done; nothing more, nothing less.  So if you don’t expect yourself to produce excellence, you won’t.  And neither will those who follow your leadership.  Sometimes, leaders fail in this area because they don’t want to be viewed as “the bad guy”.  But I’m finding that just the opposite is true.  If your teammates and followers know that you believe in them and expect them to reach a certain standard, they will usually do their best to meet or exceed your expectations.  Do you need to require more from yourself as a leader?  Do you need to require more from your followers?  Weak leaders refuse to set high standards and as a result get poor results.

You’re treating yourself and others with LOW RESPECT.  When I talk about respect, I mean “the value you place on yourself and others”.  How much are you worth?  How much are your followers worth?  You indicate how you value something by the way you invest time    or money on it.  To respect someone means you “take them seriously”.  You listen to what they say.  You care about how they feel.  You see them as special and worthy.  I love what Marcus Buckingham says in his bestselling book, StandOut.  He says (My paraphrase), “You won’t take yourself seriously until others are depending on you to be smart.”  That’s leadership!  Do you respect yourself?  When you say you’re going to do something, deep down do you wonder whether you’ll be able to keep your promise?  When the game is on the line, and it’s the fourth quarter, do you want the ball in your hands?  If so, then you have self-confidence, a product of self-respect.  If not, your leadership may be weakening and stand in need of some encouragement.