In 2012, a CNBC report showed that nearly 70 percent of employees feel that the meetings they attend are a waste of time. In 2016, Forbes reported that 65 percent of workers crave better feedback from their superiors and feel like they’re not getting the information they need to do their jobs. In other words, around two thirds of the workforce is unhappy because communication has broken down.
It was shocking statistics like these that inspired G. Riley Mills and David Lewis to write the book titled the “Bullseye Principle.” A definitive how-to guide for better communication, the book introduces readers to a set of easy-to-use tools to enhance their leadership and build stronger teams.
Picture the scene. Despite telling your teenage son countless times not to play ball in the house, you come home and find your favorite vase in pieces on the floor. What do you do? That’s right – you tell him off.
Or let’s say you’re a manager and one of your employees shows up late for the third day in a row. Again, you’re going to have to have a talk.
Hopefully they won’t just be idle words. We communicate to achieve specific objectives.
In both these scenarios, you’re communicating with the intention of changing another person’s actions. Put differently, you’re attempting to persuade. Persuasion is at the heart of communication, which can be defined as an intentional effort to alter someone’s mental state.
So here’s the million dollar question: What’s the most effective way to communicate and persuade others?
Let’s use a metaphor. Think of your message as an arrow. Like an archer, you’re aiming for the bullseye. This is the objective of your communication. Perhaps you want your son to understand the importance of respecting other people’s property, or your employees to know the importance of showing up on time.
When an archer misses the bullseye, she doesn’t blame the target. Every arrow that goes astray is the result of poor marksmanship. This is also true of communication. Whether you’re facilitating a meeting or giving a presentation, it’s your job to hit the bullseye with your audience.
Unfortunately, the business world is full of poor marksmen. Take a 2014 study published in Forbes. It found that 71 percent of employees don’t believe their bosses properly communicate what’s expected of them. The result? Unhappy workers. According to a 2017 Gallup poll, almost 70 percent of all employees in the US and 85 percent of the global workforce are “actively disengaged” from their jobs! Let that sink in for a moment.
These numbers should be a wake-up call for managers and leaders. If you want to avoid alienating your team, you need to start improving your communication skills. Let’s look at some techniques to help you hit the bullseye every time.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle spent a lot of time thinking about rhetoric – the art of persuasive speech. One of his insights was that, while good arguments are important, they’re not enough. To truly influence someone, you have to come across as honest as well as appearing genuinely excited and engaged.
Communication, in other words, isn’t just about what you say – it’s about aligning what you say with who you are.
The key message here is: Top communicators cultivate their personal brands.
What is personal branding? Well, take celebrity influencers like Beyoncé or George Clooney. Companies pay millions of dollars to have their products endorsed by these figures because people associate them with certain values. When Clooney swears by Nespresso coffee, the product becomes linked with the suave cool he brings to everything else he does. That’s his personal brand.
You don’t have to be a Hollywood star to cultivate your personal brand, though. Here’s an exercise you can try. Grab a pen and some paper and jot down three words you’d use to describe yourself. Take your time and be honest. Now find someone you trust – like your partner or a friend – and ask them to describe you in three words. Then compare the lists and see what they have in common.
Next, list your core competencies – the skills and talents you have that are valuable to others – and the accomplishments and experiences that define you. Make sure to include awards, degrees, and promotions. After that, list your goals. What do you want to achieve this year, or over the next five or ten years? Finally, write out your values – the things you stand for. Are you a champion of fairness, for example, or a stickler for the rules?
Now, you should be ready to create your own personal branding statement! This is a two-sentence description of who you are and what you bring to the table. If you’re a teacher, say, it might look like this: “I help students identify their passions and talents. I provide direction on how they can utilize them for future success.”
Composing a statement like this isn’t easy, so don’t rush it. Once you’ve nailed it, though, stick it to your computer or somewhere you’ll see it every day. This will help you stay committed and motivated. Remember, like corporate brands, strong personal brands must be developed, maintained, and protected.
In late 2007, Barack Obama had his eyes on the presidency, but things were going poorly. Endless traveling had sapped his energy. Turnout at rallies was low because of bad weather and the media’s coverage was negative. It was a dispiriting moment in an otherwise hopeful campaign. Then, one day, he met Edith Childs, a community organizer. At a near-empty meeting, she suddenly led a call-and-response chant, yelling “Fired up!” at the crowd. They responded: “Ready to go!”
As the energy in the room built, Obama had a revelation that would eventually carry him into the White House.
The key message here is: True leaders set an example and encourage a common sense of purpose.
A committed team is like a group of pioneers heading west on a wagon train. Everyone shares a common goal, and this fills them with a sense of purpose that carries them through their difficult journey. Research shows that this euphoric sense of togetherness makes teams up to five times more productive than the average.
Fostering this feeling of common purpose is therefore one of your most important jobs as a leader. Take it from a 2015 Gallup poll, which found that up to 70 percent of a team’s engagement levels comes down to the manager’s influence. Put simply, if you’re fired up, those following you will be too.
So how do you encourage engagement? A good place to start is listening to the feedback from those around you.
When Obama first took office in 2009, two-thirds of his staffers were men and many women felt they didn’t have a seat at the table. Their response was a strategy called “amplification.” Whenever a female team member had a good idea, other women repeated it and gave credit to the staffer who first proposed it.
Obama noticed this and responded to this feedback. By the end of his first term, his staff was evenly split between men and women, giving his presidency access to the talents of team members whose voices might otherwise have been ignored.
Check out my related post: How to have a difficult conversation?