On My Mind / Essays On Success

The power of positive talking

Unfortunately, in the business world, there is no "Communication 101." We are taught how to make deals, read the financial pages, pinpoint an economic trend, balance a budget, and develop a strategic vision.

The Center for Creative Leadership tracked high-potential leaders for over 20 years in an effort to monitor success factors. All the candidates achieved what we might define as "basic success," having reached positions as managers, directors, and even CEO's.

However, over the remaining years, only a handful progressed to what was identified as "very successful." The one statistically relevant difference? This handful possessed highly developed interpersonal skills. They knew how to communicate in both low- and high-stakes situations in such a way that messages were clear, accountability was established, empathy was felt, results could be measured, followers were abundant, respect was gained, behavior could be trusted, guidance was practiced AND bottom-line achievement was gained.

So, how many of today's leaders have been through an intensive course in communications, the kind that leads to the outcomes listed above? Most MBA programs have an "Organizational Communications" class. These classes (having taught them myself) tend to teach the "science" of communications and not the art of daily interacting, confronting, making agreements, giving feedback, and resolving conflicts.

Some good communications skills are shared in scattered courses in negotiation and a few lucky executives have been exposed to extended seminars where they have to contemplate their persona and effectiveness. But for the most part, leaders are left to their own devices, learning through mentors, books, and a few outstanding role models.

One reason the teaching of interpersonal communication has not been effective is because it is a very individualized process. Communicating with one another is viewed as a "given," something that doesn't need to be taught. Yet, when we enter the higher stakes of business and politics, we find that our basic communication tools fall short. Attending seminars on more sophisticated communication techniques takes time, practice, and a re-engineering of a person's mental model of listening, responding, and influencing. Yes, in a classroom or book you can be exposed to the tools and spend a day or two practicing with a partner. Making this a part of one's daily repertoire takes much more.

In walks the field of executive coaching. The phenomenon of obtaining and working with an executive coach has been growing over the past ten years, and with good cause. Recent studies have demonstrated that having a coach improves the effectiveness of not only the leader being coached but that leader's team and entire organization.

In particular, there is a measured increase in conflict resolution, implementation, clarity of messages, shared understanding of key concepts, cohesiveness, trust, confidence, and productivity. Why does coaching achieve higher levels of interpersonal learning than other means of education?

It is individualized. Unlike a seminar or classroom, a coach begins with where the leader "is at" and guides the executive on a journey of self-discovery and mastery. Everything discussed, shared, and practiced revolves around the impact that leader is experiencing or causing.

And how does a leader manage this process? Through his/her communication skills. As many leaders have found, coaching has little to do with therapy or contemplating one's navel. The purpose is individual success and movement towards action, not just improved insight or awareness. In the coaching relationship there are homework assignments, practice exercises within real-time situations, journaling, set-backs, adjustments, goal achievement, and celebration.

One of today's coaching gurus is David Rock (Quiet Leadership). He uses a marvelous analogy that gets to the heart of coaching and communication. He says that trying to change one's behavior is like trying to change the course of the river at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Your brain is so hard-wired that it would take centuries to re-wire it into new communication patterns.

What a good coach is able to do is to assist a leader in building bridges over his/her existing communication patterns and support the leader in choosing to use those new bridges more often to achieve different results. There is no "changing your personality" or "fixing your negative behaviors" or "unlearning;" there are just more tools to play with.

Once leaders begin to use a wider variety of communication approaches, they begin to influence results in new and more productive ways. One of the more effective communicative bridges that most leaders need to build is the notion of dialogue: getting to the reasoning behind what is being said or heard.  Most communication breakdowns begin and end here. There are just two steps.

Step One: When you make statements, explain your reasoning and invite the other person back into the conversation. "I think I can suggest an approach we can take with that client that might be helpful. Let me share it with you and then we can explore it further. So, what we might do is .... What do you think?

Step Two: When someone else makes a statement, ask for their reasoning. Do this by asking ever-increasing powerful questions. "That's an interesting approach. Share with me how you would implement that. How would we incorporate the fact that the client wants control?"

That's it. Communication 101. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.



Virginia Bianco-Mathis

 |  September 23, 2010; 12:02 AM ET  |  Category:  Personal essays Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please report offensive comments below.

Good communication skills are critical in all aspects of business. I also think that good public speaking skills are critical to the success of any professional an in the development of careers.
I discuss this in my blog http://www.mypublicspeakingskills.com/talkingpoints

Posted by: egane | September 28, 2010 9:41 AM
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