Leaders in business too often try to communicate messages that they don't feel 100% committed to.
Even worse, some try to sell ideas that they don't believe in at all. Managers who do this fail to influence because others recognise they aren't at ease with what they are saying.
Those managers who believe they can call people's bluff are kidding no-one except themselves. Their body language, tone of voice and even the words they use will give away their discomfort, and they won’t even realise it is happening.
Body language that betrays our discomfort can be as simple as leaning or stepping backwards, away from our audience, at the crucial moment. Reluctance to maintain eye contact at a vital point or racing through a sensitive part of the message are yet further examples.
It’s not what you say but what you convey that comes across most clearly.
So what can be done to make sure that your message gets across without you unwittingly undermining it?
1. Make time for research
One of the reasons that people fail to be influential with their communication is that they begin to sell an idea before they have fully understood or committed to it themselves.
For example, one Managing Director I worked with was preparing to present five-year financial plans to his Board. He was concerned that he might not win them over because he was not certain himself that some of the figures were achievable. This scenario was ripe with potential for embarrassment at best and a huge loss of credibility at worst had he continued without working things through to a point where he was on firm ground in his own mind.
It is essential to take time to find out about, and understand, the information behind a decision or message – especially if it leads to the resolution of doubts – before starting to communicate about it.
2. Less doubt, more honesty
If you have to communicate a message that you feel doubtful or ill at ease about, it is better to express this rather than try to hide it.
Don’t try to gloss over the bits that you are not so comfortable with, nor rush in and try to bluff your way through a conversation. As we have stressed in previous blogs, a good communicator is honest. If the message doesn’t sit comfortably, then communicate this to colleagues. You can express your concerns and reservations in a constructive way such as, “While there are aspects of this message that no-one would be happy to have to share, I can understand why it is a necessary step.”
It is fine to talk about the aspects of the message that you do agree with and explain that there are some factors you are still coming to terms with yourself.
3. The things you shouldn’t do
Never blame or criticise others, lie outright or pretend to understand a message when you don’t. When the questions inevitably flow you will either have to avoid them or bluff. If you act this way everyone will notice and you will fail to influence others to engage with a message, and ultimately undermine their trust in you.
Let us know what you think. Can you relate to this or have you had a manager that this sort of behaviour reminds you of?
[Image courtesy of BJWOK at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]