STRONG SUIT: Getting the point across
It is universally acknowledged that effective communication is an essential ingredient for the successful implementation of all plans.
Poor communication is the most commonly cited reason for strife and plans that fail. Over the years, I have conducted thousands of courses, workshops, clinics and seminars centred on communication.
I have asked countless thousands of participants to answer this question: what is your definition of successful communication?
The most common response to this question is, “to get my point across”. Variations on that theme include: “when both parties understand the messages being sent”, or “when I have been able to persuade the other person to accept my point of view”.
Essentially it translates into “my message” and “my idea”. This self-centred approach actually works against communication success.
In the late 1960s, Dr Albert Mehrabian published a study basically demonstrating that in face-to-face communication, the content or words represent only seven per cent of what is actually perceived as your message. It assigns 38 per cent to para-verbal elements such as tone, inflection, speed of delivery and so on. Non-verbal factors are assigned 55 per cent and include facial expressions, eye contact, gestures and the like.
I have found that people focused on “getting their message across” tend to treat the words as nearly 100 per cent of the message. Hence, the interaction takes on more of an adversarial or competitive aspect.
This phenomenon has made lawyers and commentators wealthy as they parse the words and focus on different interpretations of what was said. We know that the way things are said is more powerful than what is said. Bullying, intimidation and verbal assault are considered to be criminal behaviour and damaging to our society. A self-centred approach is at the core.
A positive alternative is to choose a new definition of successful communication. It comes from 3si’s inclusive communication model: successful communication occurs when the person with whom you are interacting agrees to take an action not presently being taken that you both find beneficial. It can be applied to individuals and to groups.
This definition sets cooperation as the desired outcome and requires the presenter to explicitly disclose what is being sought. It also imposes the discipline of finding out how the other party can benefit by agreeing to act in accordance with the request.
It drastically changes the thrust of preparation from a search for information about the topic to an examination of the listener’s needs related to the requested action.
In truth, most of our decisions are based on how we feel about the person and what’s being requested. Our personal needs, goals and values are powerful determinants of commitment. It is often said that “people buy on feelings and justify with facts”. We make and receive presentations in every aspect of our lives.
Here, from the same 3si model, are “Five Steps to Amen”. They should be used at the beginning of each presentation to get an agreement in principle from the onset.
1. Acknowledge the audience’s needs (related to the requested action).
2. Provide a promise/guarantee (to focus on those needs).
3. Comfort the audience (that reservations will be considered and addressed).
4. Personalize the benefits (how life will be improved by taking action).
5. Request action (a pathway to the benefits).
Try these steps, in sequence, and they will improve your communication and your life.
• Dennis Strong is founder and president of the Caribbean Institute of Certified Management Consultants.