In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, one of the factors for success (in life generally) is knowing “what to say to whom, when to say it and how to say it for maximum effect”. That’s communication – my passion and, I believe, our most fundamental life skill.
As we embark on a new era in our country, let’s take the opportunity to sharpen up our own skills and ensure that we’re “getting what we want from the world”. Whatever role and sector we’re in, we need to be able to negotiate, persuade, charm, and impress as never before.
Let’s firstly remember that confidence is a muscle, not a mystical force field, and communication is just like a sport – it’s based on a set of technical skills and mindset.
It’s not about acting or copying someone else. Authenticity is key: remaining true to our own style but being the best version of ourselves.
So, here are six areas we can address, to improve our own communication and to empower others.
1 Blowing our own trumpet
Many people, and women in particular, struggle to celebrate their success.
The key is to change our mindset and our language. It can feel less boastful to demonstrate excitement about the achievement, eg “it was an interesting/satisfying/stimulating/challenging project. I loved/was proud/excited to be involved/lead the team/work with that company”.
We can grow this muscle every day, and encourage young people to do likewise simply by adopting a new habit – accepting a compliment rather than batting it away. Instead of responding to “that’s a lovely shirt” with “oh it’s really old”, how about a very simple “thank you”.
Whether we’re preparing for a presentation, a meeting, an interview, a challenging conversation (with a colleague, client, significant other), saying the words out loud in advance will transform the experience and potentially the outcome. Rehearsal helps us manage our emotions and be more measured and concise. It also encourages us to avoid ………..
3 JENGA words
There’s a group of words and phrases (I’ve nicknamed them JENGAs) which, if overused, out loud and in writing, damage our credibility and make us appear hesitant. They include: “kind of, sort of, ya know”. “Like” is the current scourge and “just” is the killer filler. How often do emails begin with ‘Just a quick note to ……’, thereby belittling the content to follow.
4 Body language
As well as eliminating weak language, we need to be mindful of our non-verbal communication. My mission is to rid the world of crossed ankles! If you’re familiar with Amy Cuddy’s work on power posing (if not do watch her TED talk), you’ll know that her definition of ‘presence’ is ‘taking up space in the world’. Crossed ankles is the classic low power pose. Similarly, we must check our seated body language in meetings to ensure that we appear engaged, alert and ready to speak. Try feet flat on the ground, forearms on the table.
5 Small talk
Many people fear small talk. In particular they struggle to start conversations with strangers. It is indeed hard to know which topic to pick (apart from the weather of course) so an easy place to begin is a shared experience – something which you and they are both seeing, eating, drinking, about to do. The view, the prosecco, the conference, the art in the meeting room. And all you need to do is comment – wow that’s quite a view isn’t it? That will be your launch pad to a broader conversation. Another useful tool in small talk is……..
We have two ears and one mouth! In my TEDx talk, I started a crusade to encourage the world to listen, especially at moments of conflict (there’s plenty of that around, particularly on social media). If we get into the habit of listening to alternative opinions, rather than shutting them down to express our own view more forcefully, we’re more likely to be able to respect the other person’s perspective (which of course is just as valid as ours).
So, as public debate becomes ever more angry and polarised, we can lead by example and set a different tone for conversations at the dinner table or around the board table. Let’s learn (and teach the next generation) to disagree agreeably. As Buddha pointed out:
“If your mouth is open, you’re not learning”.