With the current global health crisis and us all having to find a new way of living and working to minimise its impact. I wanted to share with you my friend and colleague Sarah Brummitt’s article on how to be an effective communicator – her work and research on remote presence is second to none. You can contact Sarah directly through her website here.
Leadership is a communication business. For any of us responsible for selling products and propositions, servicing customers and clients, supporting colleagues and co-workers, growing and defending our business, engaging our teams to remain resilient and resourceful, collaborating to get things done, developing others to achieve and be ‘more’, then we are in the business of communication.
What Co-vid19 has ensured is that – for the foreseeable future at least – all of this activity will be happening remotely.
This means that all of us need to literally and metaphorically ‘dial-up’ our communication skills if we are to successfully move through these unprecedented times. Over the past three years, I have been researching how the most persuasive, engaging, impactful and trusted communicators ‘reach’ others in a remote environment, and whilst I fully recognise their value in a face-to-face setting, it will be a while before we’re all together in person. So in the meantime, here are my top ten tips for right now………
Communicate often. In the absence of information, as human beings we do one of three things: (a) ignore what’s going on in the hope that it will go away on its own (b) make fiction or fantasy become reality because our emotions have taken over (c) draw inference between two pieces of information where no link did – or should – exist. As I publish this article, the (unfortunate and oft-repeated), inaccurate rumour that Prince Phillip had died was swirling around on social media and in the City of London only yesterday. As leaders, we need to remain in extremely regular contact with our teams to keep them informed of what has changed – even if it is in the last few hours – or since yesterday. The world in which we are living means the need for increased frequency of communication is paramount. And by the way – I don’t mean by overly relying on email!
Be visible. The concept of ‘visible leadership’ is well known, but all too often people sit with their cameras turned off in a remote environment. Our audience will wonder if we’re sat at home in our pyjamas with our head in our hands, or whether we look (and sound) okay. Be visible by turning the camera on and presenting a positive visual image to the rest of our (remote) world. Think this doesn’t matter? Well, I’m married to a military man and he – like anyone who has served in a war zone – will tell you about the importance that is placed on standards around uniform and appearance in the armed services.
Be straightforward, clear and concise. We live in an ‘attention deficit economy’ where most people aren’t listening most of the time. Beware of long, confused, complicated messages. We need to be clear, concise and compelling. This means telling stories (which I define as ‘a structured message to influence others’), and not merely anecdotes. Effective stories reach others, are memorable, are persuasive, and drive change. We need to be clear on our goal, structured in our approach, balance logic with emotion and have a clear ‘ask’.
Be repetitive. The ‘Broken Record Technique’ is well known in media training circles. Given how stressed and distracted our audience might be, they will have missed what you said the first time, so repeat it, repeat it, repeat it.
Build trust through balancing optimism and realism. The ‘it’s all good’ line wears very thin, very fast, when our people are worried about their health, their families, their livelihoods, their jobs and their futures. Clearly, being a harbinger of doom won’t help either. Our job is to act as a role model and get the balance right both in the style of our delivery, as well as in the content itself.
Be inclusive. I have been working with a client of late that not only has a cultural norm of the ‘invisible audience’, (by this I mean that everyone sits on their remote calls with their cameras turned off), but also a preference to avoid interaction (so the ‘silent audience’). We need to create the opportunity wherever the group size allows, to have a discussion and create the opportunity for questions and sharing of concerns or frustrations.
Be creative. When we do need to communicate to a larger audience, don’t ask them to all dial into a call, keep their cameras turned off and mute them so that they can’t say anything. That won’t engage them! Use videos, podcasts and clips to communicate key messages. Remember, that’s what we’re all doing on social media anyway – looking amongst miserable and doom-laden feeds to find messages that will uplift and reassure us.
Be an exquisite listener. This skillset is under attack as it is, because we operate with our phones and headsets glued to us 24/7. Being truly, completely and utterly absorbed by what others are saying costs nothing – and can create powerful shifts, connections and new ways of understanding. The remote environment has an appalling reputation for people ignoring each other on a call. Remember, as leaders we can’t influence people who think we don’t listen to them.
Focus on action. ‘FYI’ alone is less helpful because fear builds when we feel that we have no choice and/or no control of our situation. Our messaging should be oriented towards choice and control. Giving others in our communication, a clear understanding of where they can exert more influence and take more control of the situation in which they find themselves, is – always – immeasurably more powerful.
Be self-aware. What many of us as leaders spend all day doing is communicating – but we rarely if ever talk about. We need to regularly seek feedback on what’s working and what’s not in our remote communication and remain curious, appreciative and flexible to change it.