Girls communicating by cans and string

Twenty years ago as a new manager in the insurance industry, I remember being told by a corporate leadership trainer “the key to being a successful manager is Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!” I also remember looking skeptically into the eyes of that trainer and thinking “Really? You are getting paid to tell me I need to communicate with my team? This is going to be a waste of time.”   Having been a communications major in college, I was pretty sure I had the whole “communication” thing nailed down. I knew I was a passionate, confident, and fairly persuasive communicator, so what could this guy possibly impart on me?  (Ever encountered a “young” leader who thought she knew more about leadership than the more tenured professionals? Yeah, I can now recognize that was me. )

Wouldn’t you know it, that trainer did share two wise concepts that not only stuck with me, but I have tried to diligently apply with my teams and continue to share with all of my clients to this day:

I.   The Rule of Seven. This is an old marketing concept, based on research indicating a buyer must hear and/or see a message seven times before acknowledging it, understanding it, and potentially accepting it.

Leadership is a lot like marketing, right? As leaders, we are (or should be) constantly engaging our staff members around our mission and strategic goals, in order to gain their commitment to excellent tactical execution of their roles. As such, these two critical aspects of the Rule of Seven have made me a better communicator over the years:

  1. Despite my self-assessed proficiency with delivering a message, most people are simply not going to hear it, much less “buy-into it” just because I give it to them one time. If I really want to be an influential communicator, I must be consistent with my message (words and written) and committed to offering it up to seven times, in order to have any impact at all. Humbling indeed, and true.
  2. Just to keep it interesting, I also must figure out the best medium for delivering different types of messages, and when-to-use-which for different personalities.   Oh boy, you mean my preference doesn’t always match theirs? Being a great communicator is a little trickier than it seems.

II.  Always include the “Why” Again, research has proven that when we understand the “why” behind a change or request of any kind, we are much more likely to not only accept it, but actively support it. Explaining the “why” includes:

1. Some high-level perspective about “why” the subject matter is important organizationally;

2. Clear information regarding why staff members should care individually (what’s in it for me).

Ever had a boss who believed “because I said so” was enough information for successfully implementing change and improving results? How did you feel about that? Long-term, how did it work out for him?  Worth considering…

With complete conviction, I share with you from personal experience with my own teams, as well as success realized by my clients, that staff members will move mountains with great pride, incredibly positive attitudes, and unmatched excellence, when they feel like communication is flowing, open and honest, and they understand the “why” behind what is being asked of them.  Simple, of course, but concerted effort is always required.

We would love to hear your thoughts and success stories re: successful communication at work!

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