When superstars Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey belted out “Money makes the World Go Round” from the classic 1968 musical “Cabaret,” they may have echoed what so many have come to believe. Yet, in today’s tough times, it takes more than money to win over important listeners and maximize results.
If you’re concerned about how the economy is affecting your business, then it’s important to think about how your communication style affects your customers, employees and prospects who are as worried as you.
As a television reporter in Philadelphia years ago, I received a phone call from my son’s day care as I was about to leave for work. They said he was running a high fever and I needed to come get him. But on that day, I had no one to take care of him, which is what I explained to the producer when I called. Expecting her to understand, she politely replied “that is not our problem and we expect you at work.” Terribly upset, I told her that wasn’t possible and there was nothing I could do.
After a tense silence, she said well there is something you can do. You can hang up and call back. Tell whoever answers the phone that you’re running a fever and can’t get out of bed and don’t mention that we spoke. Then she hung up.
It was at that moment I clearly understood the difference between a boss and a leader. A boss is simply a superior who exercises control. A leader understands the importance of relationships and making people feel valued through what is said or isn’t said. A truly wise leader also recognizes when you treat others as you want to be treated; you are more likely to create loyal followers who will help advance your agenda.
In today’s business world, employees and customers alike will tell you they’re clamoring for authenticity. They confide that what management says or doesn’t say affects morale which is why communicating early, often and openly is essential especially when times are tough. In the absence of information, rumors take over. Rumors aren’t simply repeated; they’re often refined and embellished to fill in the blanks that aren’t being communicated.
If you want to earn trust and understanding, then communicating must be as deliberate and consistent as brushing your teeth. These strategies are essential in good times and bad.
Be personal in an impersonal world — People remember impressions, not facts. Even years later when details of a situation are fuzzy, people still remember how you made them feel. Investors, colleagues, reporters and other audiences are people. By sharing real life stories and examples they can relate to, you will naturally speak with passion and create an emotional connection that makes you and your message more impactful.
One size doesn’t fit all — It’s equally important to differentiate between listeners to focus on what they need and want to know. If you are speaking to team members about a new product, they may want to know about competition, safety data and strategic planning. Yet, if you ran into your neighbor at the supermarket, she might be more interested in side effects, benefits and how this differs from what is already available. Before you speak, try asking two questions: Who am I talking to and what do they really care about?
It’s easy to get stuck in the mud and over explain where you’ve been instead of where you’re headed. For example, an executive trying to convince investors to strap in for a rocky ride that would be worth the results, spent nearly six minutes delivering background information before focusing attention on the main point. Finally, she said: “This is an exciting product with great potential to address a huge unmet need and we have a strategic plan in place to hit 1 billion in sales in 2010.” If you can’t articulate what’s in it for them and why they should care in the first few seconds, you risk tuning them out.
Make others feel important — Author John Maxwell said: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” When you take time to learn what matters to others and seek their input, you’re communicating that you value their input. For example, asking questions such as “What are your concerns?’ or “What would you do about this?”, fosters an atmosphere of trust and collaboration where people are encouraged to have a voice.
Finally, in today’s uncertain times when you can’t promise people their jobs are safe, it’s more important than ever for managers to be direct, honest, acknowledge fears, show empathy and continually communicate through as many channels as possible including meetings, newsletters, and e-mail to minimize stress, confusion and mis-information.
A communication-rich culture is a relationship- rich culture where people are a priority in both good times and bad. It also speaks volumes about a leader’s perceived ability to instill confidence, navigate issues and create an environment where people feel valued professionally and personally.