David Rohlander is a professional speaker and executive business coach whose book, The CEO Code, gives expert advice on building a great company by mastering Communication, Execution and Operations. In this article, the first of a three-part series, he shares exclusive information from his book on using effective communication to build your business.
Communication is an art form and, like any art form, it requires a mixture of talent and training to be able to harness its power and create something great.
While a painter uses brushes and canvas, the “tools of the trade” for communication leaders are Trust, Respect, Understanding, Empathy and Resolution.
Trust is crucial to building a successful business and it is earned or lost through communication. The easiest way to earn trust is to do what you say you are going to do and do it well. The easiest way to lose trust is to fail to communicate openly and honestly. Even if you say nothing at all, you can lose trust. For instance, if you tell someone you are going to be somewhere at a certain time and you are late or don’t show up, but you don’t call them to say so, you risk losing that person’s trust.
In fact, you are communicating at all times, whether you know it or not. We tend to focus on words when we think of communication but that is a very small part of it. Tone, expression and body language all play a big role in communicating. In fact, tone and body language communicate more about who you are than do words. Even when you go to a party and sit in a corner by yourself, talking to no one, you are communicating. In this case you are communicating that you are socially awkward, shy, nervous and possibly depressed. But you are communicating.
In order to become an expert at showing potential clients, business partners and employees that you are someone to be trusted, practice communicating through body language and tone. Make eye contact, smile, speak confidently, be upbeat and positive, shake hands firmly and listen (really listen, don’t just wait your turn to talk) to what others are saying.
In our modern, Western culture, many of us feel that respect has to be earned. However, the ancient philosophical belief, such as that touted by Aristotle, was that respect was a basic human right. As an emerging business leader, I ask you to entertain the idea that respect is not something others have to earn from you but something you should give to every human equally.
Many people are not aware of how they disrespect people based on things like how much money they have, social status, possessions, title, etc. When you bring that belief that people have to earn respect before you give it to a business relationship, it shows through in your attitude and will make people dislike you. It’s difficult to have effective communication when there is no mutual respect.
The way we assess others is 100 percent dependent on our own experiences. We each come into every situation with our own histories, experiences, beliefs, background and identity. This is a fact that has a huge impact on your ability to effectively communicate with all the various personalities you will encounter. What one person may perceive as an insightful statement may be highly offensive to another.
Learning to read people and adjust your communication style is a challenging skill to master but all the best business leaders have done so. I recommend you start with the DISCstyles personality assessment, a commonly used assessment tool that helps you to understand what drives people and recognize your options for effectively dealing with them.
Empathy is a potent leadership tool. This is because the achievement of human empathy requires personal security, confidence and internal balance. On the flipside, lack of empathy is an exhibit of your own fears, hang-ups and internal issues. If you are approaching others from a place of fear and not love, you will have no empathy and will have issues with others. Mandela and Ghandi were great leaders because, first and foremost, they exhibited empathy. When you are empathetic, you communicate this to others and, in turn, they want to return the positivity back to you.
Everybody wants to come out of every encounter, good or bad, a winner. A leader, on the other hand, wants everyone to come out a winner. If you are arguing your point of view nonstop, not treating others with respect, or failing to understand where others are coming from, your encounters will end with a loser and a winner and this is bad for business. If you want a win-win ending, it starts with empathy, understanding and respect. Defensiveness, fear and negativity have no place in effective communication. A transparent, open and balanced approach to communicating with others is in your own self-interest. Others won’t be inspired to follow you unless they know you’ll let them win.