The Motivation of a Powerful Communicator

Authentic Leadership is Transformational. It doesn’t impose its perspective on another but demonstrates the truth through relationship & being relatable.

Joanne Alexander

​Not long after finishing high school, I found myself in a room with a potential client and two of my supervisors.  It was a “real” situation, but also a training opportunity for me. The conversation started very smoothly with exchanges between my supervisors and the client.  It naturally covered our message and allowed for a friendly exchange and relaxed atmosphere to answer some of the client’s questions.  As the appointment unfolded, I wanted to contribute, so when a break in conversation happened I shared some thoughts and information, almost textbook perfect.  At this point, the client looked at my supervisors and pointed to me saying, “I don’t want him to speak anymore because he sounds like he is just reading from a book, but I would like to continue speaking with both of you.” From that point on I don’t remember how the conversation went, but I do remember feeling the big blow to my ego and realizing that my approach could use some work.
Over the years I have reflected on this experience and found some rich learning in two main areas:

  1. The motivation behind my desire to act.
  2. The power of being authentic or genuine.

My motivation at the time I decided to speak to the client was multifaceted. I wanted to contribute as a part of the team, and I wanted to impress my supervisors by showing them what I had learned. At the time both of these seemed like good reasons to break into the conversation, but my attempt was futile as I was missing a very important element: primary concern for the client and their understanding of the message.

As a leader, having a primary concern for the audience in front of you is pivotal for both influence and communicating your message. It will allow you to connect with the person or group on a deeper level – they will know that you care what they think and are aware of their needs. It doesn’t matter whether you are a frontline salesman or a CEO – people will show a greater level of openness and trust when they know that you have their well-being in mind. In contrast, I have found myself wanting to leave a presentation when the presenter was only reading their over worded slides and there was no way I have wanted to buy a car from a salesman who was too pushy and using a lot of high pressure sales tactics on me. Primary concern for your audience is essential to building trust. And trust is the currency that determines the influence of your message.
Defining your motivation (and ensuring it focuses on the client) is a great start, but you also need to be present as the conversation develops. It’s important to manage the challenging interests and multiple motivations that will come up as you are communicating with others.  Here are five strategies that can help you when dealing with these situations:

  1. Stay Present
    1. Our mind has a tendency to drift, especially when we are communicating something that we have rehearsed or presented over and over. When this happens, bring your mind back to focus on your audience.
    2. A simple tip might be to take a second to consider your audience. Feel the energy in the room and ask yourself what they are there for?
  2. Watch for non-verbal cues
    1. People communicate more without using words than they do by using them.
    2. Practice watching the listener’s eyes, facial expressions and/or body language as you are speaking to him or her.  This will allow you to assess when your message needs clarification or change.
  3. Be flexible
    1. Be willing to shift your presentation in length and content depending on the needs of your audience.
  4. Invite Participation
    1. Participation from your audience will increase engagement in the message and provide valuable feedback to you on whether they understand you. This applies whether your audience is a large group or just one person.
  5. Practice putting others first
    1. It can be tempting when we set goals to look at communication with others as stepping stones to achieve those goals, but the focus for any communicator should be on helping the audience – not themselves. Putting people first and focusing on how we can help them will allow us to connect and communicate effectively. You will still reach your own goals by taking this approach [i]

I invite you to explore how your internal dialogue (and how you respond to it) affects your communication with others. Here are some activities that can help you reflect on your approach to communication:

  1. Think of an experience where your communication with others didn’t work very well.  Try to remember what your motivation was in talking to the person or group in that moment.  Were there any distractions? What was their body language telling you? What else can you notice from the situation?
  2. Over the next few weeks, pay attention to how you communicate with people. What are you thinking about in the conversation? What is your motivation and primary concern? How does the person react to you?

Please share in the comments any learning experiences, strategies and successes you have had in staying focused while communicating with others. I will explore the power of being authentic in a future post.

[i] The Arbinger Institue, Leadership and Self-Deception, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc. 2010

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