What if almost half of everything you say isn’t getting through? Actually, if you have young kids, as we do, you’re probably thinking that about half of it getting through is pretty darn good. Well, maybe it’s debatable that it’s okay when you’re dealing with kids (although we don’t actually think so), but it definitely is not debatable when you’re dealing with adults in today’s cacophonous, crowded, cluttered communications world. Not if you want to accomplish something.
What You Can Do About It
There are three societal trends that are giving communicators a swift kick in the rear to change.
1. There’s an ever-increasing trust gap between us and our leaders.
Scandals surround our everyday lives, from fraudulent accounting, to steroid abuse, to privacy infringements. This trust gap plagues leaders at every level, whether in sports, entertainment, or business at large.
This means that people no longer trust you simply on the basis of your leadership position. In fact, they may view you and your message with heightened skepticism because you are in a leadership role.
You must earn the license to lead. Not by expertise, authority, or title alone, but by influence. In business and in life, people check off an action item because they have to . . . But what if they were so moved that they wanted to do it?
One tool we can use to engender trust is transparency. Transparency is intentional openness, accountability, and accessible communication. Rather than taking a CYA, protect-and-defend approach, transparent leaders share perspectives, ask for help, demonstrate integrity, share emotions, and invite questions.
I saw an example of this in action a few weeks ago. I took a risk and opened up, revealing some details to our team that I wasn’t even sure that I should share – not to the level of detail that I did. But I did anyway. I wanted to be sure they heard the details straight from the top, instead of through the grapevine. The results instigated this blog. Though unexpected, it was met with gratitude and openness.
Action: Toss your title of authority and lead by influence every day. Present a bigger, more candid vision in your next meeting rather than defaulting to a tactical, CYA explanation.
2. We Live in an Attention Economy but We’re Communicating with Foreign Currency.
Smartphones and social media have changed the way we listen. When you speak, from speeches to meetings, you may be seeing fewer faces and more tops of heads as people tune you out and stare down at their gadgets.
We’re in a new and different communication era, and there’s no point in grumbling that our listeners ought to put down their phones and pay attention. They won’t—unless we give them good reason to do so. We’ve got to be more fascinating—yes, fascinating!—than the content on their handheld devices, not to mention any of the information they could be seeking there.
Let’s all stop making excuses for multi-tasking—whether by doing it or allowing it as part of our corporate culture! Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes up to 50 percent longer to accomplish a task and makes up to 50 percent more errors.1 So if people in your meeting are checking email or tweeting, they are missing something, period.
Action: Cut through the electronic clutter and take control. Begin your next meeting by asking everyone to put smartphones out of reach. Shorten the time of your next meeting or presentation by 5 minutes to cater to the attention economy. Observe how long it takes before you start to tune out and pull out your mobile device at the next meeting.
3. As a Backlash to Information, We Want Inspiration.
At a time when we don’t really trust the voices from the megaphones or microphones, and we’re inundated with more information than we have time to even skim, what is it that will really catch our attention? What do we crave more than anything else? We are seeking inspiration. Desperately.
It’s time to move beyond information. Inspiration actually produces a completely different response from the audience. When you inspire people, it is much easier to persuade them to buy into your vision and goals. In fact, they will move from a position of “have to” to “want to.” They will become evangelists for your ideas and help you spread the news far beyond your own reach.
If you want to engineer change, if you want your thoughts and views to be adopted by masses of people, stop data dumping on them and become a communicator of ideas.
ACTION: The TED slogan “Ideas Worth Spreading” should become your personal mantra. Watch a TED Talk once a week to view some inspiration-in-action. Adopt the TED Commandments, the set of speaker rules that were handed to the very first TED speakers.
For more insights from Ben and Kelly Decker, check out their book: Communicate to Influence: How to Inspire Your Audience to Action.
Don't be misunderstood anymore. Get your message across every time with these AMA resources and seminars: