The profound message behind Simon Sinek’s “start with why” strategy is not new, but adopting his foundational approach often can be marred by a lack of clarity around the tactical steps necessary to deliver on the why.
Why should we improve our health? To experience more joy, decrease our healthcare expenses, and enjoy a longer life. Why should we organize our finances? To remove stress, enable us to live fully, and build the wealth that allows us to fully enjoy that longer life. Indeed, there are countless other examples, and we often understand the purpose behind identifying those countless whys. Further, a small amount of proactive research and exploration generally will reveal the tactics that will move us in the direction of success.
In spite of knowing what needs to be done, even when well-motivated by an understanding of why, it is rarely enough to get us to the finish line. The world of business communication, and ultimately the success of the business, is no different.
The Role of Communication in Business Success
The daily work we trade to our employers in exchange for the dollars that help us to build our futures, and the success of that work, is an essential element in the equation. It’s no secret that communication has always been an integral part of business success. It’s how every deal is closed, it’s how entire organizations are inspired, it’s how boards and management teams are influenced, and, ultimately, it’s how entire markets are moved. Look no further than how stock market performance can be influenced by one person saying one thing in a particular way.
From a strategic perspective, the last critical link between us and making something happen in this world is our communication. It’s how we meaningfully connect with other human beings and motivate the actions required for success. This is true no matter what the circumstances may be.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are faced with conducting business virtually, which makes the stakes even higher. With travel curtailed, fewer face-to-face meetings, and companies looking for ways to be more efficient in all areas, how well we communicate in today’s reality is a differentiator that can make or break businesses. Communicate poorly and the business may not survive; communicate well by adapting and the business will have the opportunity to thrive.
Reaching Communication Effectiveness
Now more than ever, authentic communication is vital. The why of improving business communication is now clear: to drive business results; the what is communication itself; but the how is where questions arise. Videoconferencing technology is not the answer; it’s simply the venue through which conversations are now happening. The true how comes from looking inward and making improvements to content and personal communication style. In other words, what you say and how you say it.
On the surface, the tips and tricks for addressing those two categories may appear straightforward:
- Stay focused on results when planning content.
- Communicate from your listener’s point-of-view.
- Build understandable messages and tell stories rather than simply dumping data.
- Be energetic.
- Maintain eye contact.
- Slow down when you speak.
- Use your voice more powerfully.
- Come across as confident.
- Embrace your own vulnerability by using humility, empathy, and authenticity to engage authentically with your listener.
The key to meaningful, sustainable improvement in communication is more than just recognizing these needs; it’s in the training that helps us address and improve them. Fortunately, such training methods exist, and none of us is alone.
However, the key to becoming a successful communicator is grounded in discovery. It’s not a change you “put on” when you think you need to, but rather it is discovery of your real self that is manifested through natural communication behavior that you own. In addition, identifying what behaviors need to be exhibited can only be accomplished through discovery, which can only be revealed by exploring your own self-awareness.
Becoming a more powerful communicator isn’t something you buy off the shelf or something you simply read about and do. It’s not a checklist you execute. “Becoming” is an experience. It’s a journey, not a destination. Experiences never happen alone; they happen when you put yourself in real, but safe situations with experienced guides that help you push yourself to uncover parts of you that you may have lost, or new resources you never knew were inside you. Guides can help us make change, and, most importantly, help us understand how to own the change we want. That is the true path to permanent behavioral change.
Why Authenticity Matters
Authenticity is the key to believability, building trust, and, ultimately, leadership, so it’s an essential component of communication. To that point, it’s important to understand that becoming a powerful and authentic communicator doesn’t mean changing who you are; it means becoming more of who you are.
A carefully crafted training program will provide the tools that help us understand how the world experiences us as communicators. Our internal realities are rarely aligned with what the world sees, and we almost never get the kind of honest and direct feedback we need to get that clear picture. Coming to terms with that sometimes-difficult reality is the foundation for meaningful development. This self-awareness is the flashpoint that enables us to become more of who we really are, and it allows us to better understand how to bring that to the world around us every time we communicate. It takes work, but the payoff can pay enormous dividends.
Investment vs. Expenditure
Shorter-sighted organizations often see training as a line-item expenditure, but the reality is that quality training is an investment in future success. The most urgent aspect of training will be realized due to the work-from-home environment in which business currently operates, but the right investments now will set you up for the kind of long-term success that only comes with an authentic, trust-based organizational culture.
Imagine a business where every contributor is authentic, clear, understanding of others’ points of view, and is willing to work on themselves to better connect with rest of the organization. As similar history has proven, those are the organizations that will make it through this difficult time, and they are the ones that will continue to succeed in a business environment that likely will never be the same.
Scott Weiss is owner and CEO of Speakeasy, a 47-year-old global communication coaching and professional development company headquartered in Atlanta, GA, with additional offices around the globe. Weiss was introduced to Speakeasy as a client, after 10 successful years as a senior executive on Wall Street and with a public company in the media entertainment industry. His own Speakeasy experience was profound enough that he joined the company as executive vice president and bought the business 10 years later in 2003. His best-selling book, “DARE!” received a gold medal award for ethics, and he speaks regularly on the importance of honesty and trust in communication.