We’ve both seen it, and likely experienced it, far more often than we care to discuss… Instructions were thrown at those responsible for completing a given task. Those instructions resulted in more questions than answers… What happens next can be any number of things; the team members run in circles, filled with complete confusion, they charge forward in the wrong direction, or they throw their hands up in disgust because they’ve been down this path too many times before – and begin brushing up their resume’s!
In the work Cindy and I do as independent certified coaches, teachers, and speakers with The John Maxwell Team and certified human behavior consultants through Personality Insights, we often find communication issues to be one of the biggest roadblock for companies to overcome in order to achieve their goals – regardless of what each company’s goals may be… I don’t know that I’ve ever worked for, or with, an organization that has all the time it truly needs to address all the metrics, objectives, and goals it has in order to achieve the desired profitability. And taking the time to deliver a message over and over and over again can suck up so much of the limited time we do have. But there’s good news… Understanding a few key principles and learning to execute a few critical practices can make a huge difference!
In the opening line of his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell says “According to experts, we are bombarded with thirty-five thousand messages a day.” Since this book was written nearly 10 years ago, I can only imagine that number has gone up significantly. John’s purpose in making this statement was to challenge us to consider what we can do to ensure the messages we’re sending stand out from all that other noise.
My goal here is to provide you with some thoughts around a few tools you can apply that should help you be sure that your messages are the ones being received. The more Cindy and I study The DISC Model of Human Behavior, we see examples in every organization where stress is coming from miscommunication. And the higher the level of stress, the lower the productivity. These tools should give you an edge on addressing that stress! And who doesn’t want to have an edge?
In nearly 20 years of studying John Maxwell’s work, the one phrase I’ve heard him use more than ANY other has been “Leadership is Influence. Nothing more, nothing less.” That statement alone carries a significant amount of weight. But when you understand how to increase the influence that you can have in your day to day activities, it becomes even more important!
I’ve never seen a company with a shortage of things to measure or one that struggles to find information that needs to be communicated to employees throughout the organization. And more often than not, that information is made available for just about anyone who’s willing to look for it. The challenge begins when the folks who need it aren’t doing much looking. That challenge continues when those who happen upon the information can’t separate it from all the other noise (the other 34,999 messages) they’re being hammered with over the course of the day. So even when the information is communicated, it has little chance of actually connecting. And if some of these stats are even close to accurate, it’s absolutely critical for each and every one of us to do everything in our power to make the connections necessary to increase the influence we have.
The first principle John discusses in Everyone Communicates, Few Connect is “Connecting Increases Your Influence in Every Situation.” He defines connecting as “the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence with them.”
Understanding our audience’s behavioral and communication styles can be one of the most effective tools for achieving the connection we need, whether we’re tasked with getting our message to one person or one hundred. When we’re able to determine that our audience is more outgoing, we can pick up our pace. If it’s a more reserved group, a message that’s even keel is more likely to be received well. In cases where the team is very task-oriented, we can get right down to business. But in cases where the majority seems to be more people-centered, we’d better show some interest in those we’re speaking with before we march forward to accomplishing an objective. And when we’re just not sure where everyone falls in the mix, there’s a simple pattern to follow that allows us to speak each individual style as part of our overall message.
But hold on: None of this happens without effort!
Making the necessary Connection we need in order to be sure our message is received ALWAYS requires us to put in some extra effort. In teaching this principle, Connecting Always Requires Energy, John says that “if you want to connect with others, you must be intentional about it. And that always requires energy.”
Having had responsibility leading for various types of employee meetings (safety, benefits, productivity improvement, etc.) over the last twenty years, I’ve seen (and done) just about anything you can imagine to try to get my message across. Some of those things have been received very well and others, well, not so much… After the first several months of being painfully uncomfortable delivering any type of message to a group of more than one person, I began to actually enjoy it. And as I enjoyed it more, I became more comfortable with shooting from the hip. In some cases, that was perfectly fine. With enough repetition, we can all likely go on and on about a given topic. But in many cases that ended up being wasted breath. The challenge with this is that occupying time with general noise on any subject isn’t very likely to get or keep an audience’s attention; even when that audience is only one person…
After enough times where my message made little, if any, impact on the folks I was speaking with, I learned that taking the time in advance to tailor the message to the specific group I would be with was absolutely worth the investment. Whether the goal was gaining some sort of buy-in on a new process or procedure, or simply raising the level of awareness for a specific hazard in the workplace, I could always see a visible difference in the crowd when I delivered the message using examples they were familiar with. Sure it took more time, but if the message isn’t received, any time spent delivering it is fairly useless… An intentional effort to make it was personal for that group was always appreciated, even if they didn’t necessarily like the message I was sharing… (I won’t go into the story of the supervisor who’s idea of effectively communicating the required daily safety topic was printing something on a sheet of paper and taping it to the outside of the door to his office; who really has time for actually talking directly to those pesky peasant-workers anyway…?)
The saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure couldn’t be more appropriate, just in this case you might change it to an ounce of preparation. And while general preparation serves its purpose, having a solid understanding of your audience’s behavioral and communication style can make an even bigger impact in making sure your message can be put into practice. Understanding how to apply The DISC Model of Human Behavior has actually turned this into something fun!
Putting all of this into practice can certainly seem overwhelming; at least it was for me. The good news, at least in my opinion, is that it’s something we can all get better at if we’re willing to work at it. And lucky for me this is a skill we can all learn, rather than it being a talent only a few were born with…
This was quite the breath of fresh air for me! I also understand that this whole idea of making our message stand out from everything else we’re all bombarded with on a daily basis can be nothing short of overwhelming! So here’s what I believe we should all consider to be GREAT news: learning to make that connection so our message is the one being received is a SKILL we can each improve; not a TALENT someone is either born with or without…!
John dedicates an entire chapter of Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, Connecting is More Skill than Natural Talent, to teaching this principle. He says, “Connecting is something ANYONE can learn to do, but one must study communication to improve at it.” Learning this gave me an amazing amount of confidence. I’ve never considered myself to have much natural talent in anything, but I have always taken pride in my work ethic. When I understood that all I needed to do was put the necessary effort into studying effective communicators, I was all over it! I began looking for every opportunity I could to “learn” from other people I viewed as being effective. There were times where I also learned from the content they shared but more often than not, I was most interested in how they delivered their message. I would take notes on the things I responded to as well as the things that their entire audience seemed to react well to (whether that audience was just a few people or a few thousand people).
The next piece of this puzzle for me was working to apply what I was learning. I’ve often heard the saying “be the best you you can be because you’ll only ever be second rate at being someone else.” It took me a while to really learn how true that was. What I had seen work well for some didn’t always give me the same results. I had to come to terms with who I was AND who I was not…
I’ve often seen people use results from behavioral or personality assessments to make excuses for things they do or to label other people they’re dealing with. As I’ve developed a familiarity with The DISC Model of Human Behavior, I’ve also learned to be very confident in my own skin. This understanding of my unique blend, my strengths AND my blind spots, helps me be more intentional about delivering a message that CONNECTS with other styles rather than driving a wedge between me and them…
But as good as these principles are, the tangible results only show up when we put them into practice.
Before though, let’s recap: one of the most critical things Cindy and I have seen for almost every organization we’ve been a part of, or done work with, has been Developing a CULTURE of Effective Communication. Understanding that leadership is based on the influence we have with the people we’re responsible for, nothing more, nothing less, allows us to begin putting in the necessary effort to earn their trust and respect. Fortunately for most of us, effective communication is a skill we can develop rather than some mystical talent only a few are born with!
But all of that knowledge does little good if we’re not willing to put it into action! So let’s do something with it!
John Maxwell dedicates the entire second half of Everyone Communicates, Few Connect to outlining several applicable practices we can each implement into our own personal communication style that will help us to be more effective in our interaction with others and begin developing that necessary influence immediately. One of the most important steps to “Connecting on Common Ground” is simply identifying the language your audience needs to hear. A number of years ago, I did some training at a manufacturing facility in central Mexico. That bottle of Valentinas hot sauce I had in the refrigerator at home wasn’t going to help me one bit! I needed a translator if I was going to have any hope of helping that group understand the material I was covering… Identifying common ground can be equally difficult even when we’re all speaking English. Understanding the behavioral styles of the individual or group you’re communicating with can have just as much impact as that translator did for me in that factory in Mexico. We recently led a session call Piecing Together Your People Puzzles for a group where the overwhelming majority were Reserved and People-Centered, but the several on the senior leadership team were very Outgoing and Task-Centered. Having that same Outgoing/Task-Centered style personally, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to establish common ground with someone who’s more Reserved/People-Oriented. Without dialing it back several notches, we can either scare them or alienate them without ever meaning to! Cindy and I tailored that session to provide the group with tools they could use right away to identify the primary style of the person (or group) they were speaking with, and just as importantly, change how they were delivering their message! Knowing what to do and doing it are two VERY different things! But moving in right direction isn’t likely if you don’t know where you’re supposed to be going…
Another effective practice is keeping the message simple, but that’s often easier said than done too! Albert Einstein was quoted as saying, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it enough.” John Beckley, former business editor of Newsweek and author of The Power of Little Words, wrote “Instead of teaching us how to communicate as clearly as possible, our schooling in English teaches us how to fog things up. It even implants a fear that if we don’t make our writing complicated enough, we’ll be considered uneducated.” If you’re anything like me at all, you’ve also sat in your doctor’s office nodding your head with a blank stare on your face while the doctor explains your diagnosis with words you’re absolutely certain they’re making up as they go along and prescribing something no one could ever learn to spell correctly – hence the scribbling on the pad… If we really want to develop that culture of effective communication, we have to be willing to put in the work necessary so we understand our message so well that we can deliver it in the simplest terms possible! This certainly isn’t saying that anyone we’re communicating with is less intelligent; quite the opposite! This is all about making sure our message stands out from the other 34,999 they’re going to be receiving that day…
While it’s true that many of these principle and practices could be used as manipulative tools for convincing your team to do things that may not be in their own best interest, this will eventually catch up with the person who chooses that kind of approach. John Maxwell says “In the first 6 months of a relationship (of any kind), we focus on a person’s communication ability in order to make judgements about them…. After six months, credibility overrides communication.” If we genuinely want a lasting culture of effective communication, we would do well to make sure our walk matches our talk! We’ve all likely experienced situations where a new leader joins our group or organization, telling us how great things are going to be. But as we learn to know them, there’s very little doing to match all that talking…. How long does it take you to tune out this person’s message? What steps can you take personally to be sure that’s never how your team sees you? Although this is often very simple to do in practice, the decisions we have to make to be sure it happens can be challenging.
In tying this all together, communication is a significant part of everything we do on a daily basis. We all have messages coming at us from every direction constantly. Over the last two decades of studying communication styles, I’ve learned that the individuals and organizations who genuinely make effective communication a priority, sooner or later, are the ones that come out on top! And one of the things Cindy and I enjoy doing most is providing resources that give a competitive advantage to the people who truly want to Develop a Culture of Effective Communication!
Wes Dove is the founder of Dove Development & Consulting, a company committed to providing premium leadership and personnel development resources to organizations and individuals who want to reach that next level. Wes is an independent certified coach, trainer, and speaker with The John Maxwell Team and a Certified Human Behavior Consultant using The DISC Model of Human Behavior through Personality Insights. Wes served on the 2016 and 2017 John C. Maxwell Transformational Leadership Award Selection Committees as well as the 2017 LIVE2LEAD Simulcast Advisory Committee, providing mentorship and guidance to more than 300 simulcast hosts around the world.