I think about communication in a very specific way. Communication (or rather great communication) is not a series of memorized steps, standard moves, or a list of tips and tricks. No, I think about it much differently than that. Rather than a series of memorized steps or standard moves, great communication is really about questions and choices. Great communication is about understanding what is really going on in a given moment, seeing the situation clearly, and then deciding the best ways to connect with the people around us. And in order to do that consistently well, we need to do a lot more than just memorize steps. We need to think strategically and have a curiosity for things outside of our own head. We need to be able to “see the whole board” before we make our next move.
I also love to draw metaphorical threads to other things I have experienced in my life. For today’s discussion, I will call on two things that might surprise you: sailing and poker. In my younger life, I dedicated an enormous amount of time to Olympic-level sailboat racing; and in my current life, I dedicate a little bit of time to playing poker with a group of great friends who are all very good at the game.
In sailing, there is a list of things you need to be good at, regardless of the circumstances: you need to have excellent equipment that is functioning very well, know how to go fast, be in complete sync with your teammates and your boat, and know all the possible moves that might be necessary. But you also need to be able to “see the whole board,” and adjust your decisions based on the circumstances of the moment… the weather, the distance left in the race, the amount of time left in the regatta, the number of competitors in the race, what your competitors are doing and showing you… and all of that will ultimately help you determine the correct choices to be made in that race. In sailing, all of the important skills need to be at your disposal; but how, when and where you deploy those skills depends on your situational awareness of that particular moment.
In poker, there is also a list of things you need to be good at, regardless of the circumstances: you need to know the hierarchy of hands, the basic odds of getting certain cards at certain moments, when to bet/raise/check/fold (based on the odds) and know all the possible moves that might be necessary. But you also need to be able to “see the whole board,” and adjust your decisions based on the circumstances of the moment… how big (or small) your stack of chips is vs. your opponents, the amount of money that is at stake, the number of competitors in the hand and the game, what your competitors are doing and showing you… and all of that will ultimately help you determine the correct choices to be made in that hand. In poker, all of the important skills need to be at your disposal; but how, when and where you deploy those skills depends on your situational awareness of that particular moment.
Everything written in the two paragraphs above is true. And everything written above also applies to the way I think about communication. You need to have certain communication skills in your toolbox: you need to know how (and be willing) to listen, how to make “the ask,” how to create great supporting materials, and how to speak with a full array of delivery and presence. But you also need to be able to “see the whole board,” and adjust your decisions based on the circumstances of the moment… who you are speaking to and your basic understanding of the industry/company/person; the economic and market environment they (and you) are in; the objectives and objections of the person or people you are speaking to; and the tone of the news you are delivering. In your business communication, all of the important skills need to be at your disposal; but how, when and where you deploy those skills depends on your situational awareness of that particular moment.
Great communication is never a “one size fits all” endeavor. Great communication is not based on a memorized list of tips and tricks. No… great communication is based on the ability to ask the correct questions, listen carefully, attempt to understand and anticipate what the other person or group really cares about, and make consistently good choices. Great communication is about seeing the whole board in front of you. When we are communicating in the workplace, don’t think about memorizing a list of steps. Instead, focus on the choices. No one gets it right all the time. But if we think about things the correct way, ask ourselves the correct questions, and make consistently good choices, then our batting average of success will be high, and our communication will be strong. Being a great communicator, just like being a great sailboat racer or poker player, is about seeing the whole board and making consistently good choices.
That is how I think about communication. I hope this helps you as well.
Have a great and safe day.
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