Being a Great Communicator

January 11, 2005

There is an old joke about consultants – they know at least one hundred ways to make love to a beautiful woman? the problem is that they do not know any women!

When I was General Counsel in two UK plcs I suspect that I’might not have been very receptive to the idea that a ?mere? consultant would be able to share any insights into my work that I would find truly valuable.

Well more fool me.

In this world it is hard to be brilliant and original on our own?I suspect that my original ideas are not brilliant and the ideas that I share which are brilliant are probably not original?but if I can accelerate thinking, make decisions easier to contemplate and assure with conviction that what is proposed will actually work ? that is value?and this brings me to my main theme – communication.

Every survey there has ever been of any law firm or any business employing lawyers will somewhere, somehow, raise ?communication? as a difficult area. I hear it everywhere I go? ?We?re not very good at communication?, ?No-one really knows what is going on?, ?Decisions are taken in a vacuum?, ?I Didn’t understand what was meant?, ?Who knows what is going on?, and so on.

And everywhere I go I start by saying to people?it?s not so bad, everywhere is like this!

And that?s the truth?none of us gets communication right all of the time. But do you know what? When we do get it right, we fly. Our work is easier, our relationships are better and our profitability and value is enhanced.

This is not because on these occasions we suddenly have some amazing improvement in our legal expertise? Of course not ? it?s because we have connected with our clients and our colleagues. It?s because on these occasions we were great communicators.

I have read countless books on communication?heard hours of lectures?I know the routines. But guess what ? if it was as easy as we?re told, we would all be brilliant at it by now. In my judgement the issue is not to make good communication sound simple ? it?s to make it sound difficult.

When Roger Federer plays an impossible cross court shot out of nowhere the commentators say ??and he made it look easy?. When Shane Warne bowls a leg break that turns three feet and makes the batsman look foolish we all marvel at the ease of movement and the ordinariness of the approach.

Yet when we see these sportsmen in action we know we are witnessing genius.

Being a great communicator doesn?t happen because we want to be great communicators. It won?t happen simply because we say it often enough?That?s just called wishful thinking.

No, being a great communicator comes from having some talent but, above all, a willingness and a commitment to work at it for hour after hour, day after day, year after year. There is no quick fix, no short cut, just hard work, perseverance and thoughtfulness.

As a consultant there is a temptation to package advice in a way that makes it sound like one has all the answers and that these answers are all within reach. The truth is that all I can do as a consultant is show you your weakness.

Of course, if you are prepared to listen I can then also show you how to make your weakness become a strength but even then I will not make this happen, I will only show you what you must do to make it happen.

When it comes to communication let me now share with you the insights you need to become a great communicator. You probably won?t like it because, by analogy, my advice is the equivalent of saying ? To play like Federer, hold the racket, swing and hit the ball. Or to bowl like Warne, amble up to the crease and bowl the ball to the other end.

I am sure you will not be convinced but please read the next five points and dwell on them.

To be a great communicator you must:

1. Know what you want to say
2. Know why you want to say it
3. Know how you want to say it
4. Know who you want to say it to, and
5. Know when you want to say it

It sounds easy doesn?t it? We can all do this can?t we?

We can, except we don?t. We chuck out messages like confetti; we often care less how things look as long as we have done what we said we would do; we do things the way it suits us whenever we can and when we are misunderstood we complain that others are stupid or awkward.

There is obviously more to it than five short lines; but if we could be literally thoughtful about each of these five elements on each occasion we communicated, our communications would improve out of sight.

When you are thinking about speaking to, or writing to, a client just ask yourself these five questions. Then tailor your actions to match what you think will be the best approach in answer to these five questions.

What you will end up with is a communication strategy that will knock spots off anything you have done before.

Equally if you have to communicate with a colleague, or your boss or a subordinate, do exactly the same thing again. It will make a huge difference to the quality of your relationship.

But do you know what? This formula is not a once and for all fix. It?s not a do once then forget about it exercise. This is a formula you must apply every day, many times a day, for the rest of your life. Only then will you be a great communicator.

Communication isn?t easy; there is no pat answer. So don’t buy one from just any old consultant peddling the equivalent of a fad diet. If you want to be a great communicator then, like long term weight loss and a healthy diet, it?s down to a lifestyle change where you accept your responsibility to be accountable for all of your actions.

And repeat after me?

1. Know what you want to say
2. Know why you want to say it
3. Know how you want to say it
4. Know who you want to say it to, and
5. Know when you want to say it.

Happy communicating.

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