This isn’t an article giving you a list of ways to communicate better. If that’s what you’re looking for, click here. To get to grips with what powerful communication looks like we have to consider what it is at its most basic level. In this article, the last of our series of “Great Leader” blogs, we will discuss why being an effective and powerful communicator is perhaps the most important quality of all.
Great leaders are often the most self-aware; they are fully comfortable within themselves. They know their strengths, are wise to their weaknesses, and willing to self-analyse. Once you truly feel like you understand yourself your inner confidence will be all too evident in your communication. You will have the ability to have conversations without always needing to be right, or to interrupt, but to understand conclusively another person’s viewpoint.
Part of being fully aware of yourself is not feeling the need to change your persona to suit different situations. Sometimes the internal pull to alter your reactions, sense of humour, political views and attitudes can be overpowering. You might think that you won’t be accepted unless you do; or you might have something of an outsider complex, a ‘me and them’ approach, so you try your hardest to be ‘them’. Social chameleons are many — remember back in school when there would be an Ofsted inspection and your viperine, dragon of a teacher would suddenly morph into an energetic and sugary-sweet CBBC presenter? Hard to bear wasn’t it.
Effective communication is about empowering both the communicator and the communicatee at the same time. By learning how to ask the right questions, through deeper, insightful comments, it is much easier to influence and help the person you’re communicating with. Everybody likes some help from time to time, but being able to find out exactly what kind of help somebody needs can be difficult. Pamela Maier suggests asking questions such as: “Of everything on your plate, if you were to receive help, what would be most beneficial?”; or “What kinds of feedback or additional information would be most useful to you?”. In asking sensitive, informed questions, you empower the person you’re helping by acknowledging that what they are doing isn’t easy.
“You can’t help someone get up a hill without getting closer to the top yourself”
H Norman Schwarzkopf
And, after all, one of the greatest pleasures in life is giving. Have a watch of this 3-minute video that went viral about a year ago. It shows an entertainer, ‘Magic of Rahat’, giving a homeless man, Eric, a rigged ‘winning’ lottery ticket. The entertainer had arranged with a local shop-owner to reveal to Eric that he had won $1000, and hand him the money when he took him to collect it. Upon receiving the money, Eric tried to share the winnings with Rahat, finally breaking down in tears of joy and amazement. It’s a tear-jerking watch. (You have been warned)
We’ve all heard that helping and giving makes us happier. However, research published in the International Journal of Happiness and Development makes the link between giving, happiness on the part of the giver, and social connection. Psychologists in America discovered that spending money on others, or giving money to charity has the biggest effect on happiness of the donor when it fosters a social connection. For example, the donor would become happiest when giving money to a cause valued by a family friend, or when somebody they know is running a marathon, rather than simply giving an anonymous donation. This makes the case that the act of giving greatly empowers the giver if some sort of social, communicative connection is made. So we can deduce from this that, when giving help, effective communication is not only beneficial for the person you’re helping, but it can also make you happier.
The social aspects of communication cannot be stressed enough. Forming relationships, building on those relationships, and fostering robust, life-long connections is not only good practice in business, but in life in general. We thrive on connection and survive on it. What actually is communication? On a fundamental level the positive communication we have with one another is in order to help: to help solve problems; resolve disputes; inform others; generate success; celebrate success; commiserate failure. The best, most effective kind of communication is empowering.
When I first watched the YouTube clip, and the homeless man was approached by the generous and giving entertainer, it felt like I had just met somebody firmly outside the sphere of proper communication. I wonder how many people that day had bluntly refused to communicate with him, to understand his viewpoint, and empathise with his perspective on life without feeling self-conscious or acting like they had somewhere better to be. In truth, when’s the last time you actually communicated with a homeless person? When’s the last time you didn’t just ignore them, or turn away huffishly? We do it all the time.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, for a long time. And never, never had a friend… had somebody do what you just did back there”
Rahat communicated with the man on a level that wasn’t self-aggrandising, or particularly pitying — he helped. Within 17 days of the clip being posted and gaining momentum there had been $44,000 in donations for Eric. With that money, Rahat has bought a year’s rent for a 1 bedroom apartment. The people who donated this money felt like they knew Eric — he was honest, transparent — he didn’t change his persona to fit in, and he knew what he was. The effective communication between not only Rahat and Eric, but also Eric and the viewers enabled great, great things.
It is so important not to lose sight of the fact that the capability of effective communication is what distinguishes us from most other species on earth. Every once in a while it takes something like the story of Eric and Rahat to remind people that communication is a gift.
Give it a go today — empower yourself and those around you.