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How to Be a Clear Communicator

To the extent that one shares meaning with another, the two parties communicated. Anyone familiar with the academic side of communication can tell you, it’s very difficult for any two people, much less groups, to accurately convey meaning to one another. Our minds are too filled with our own assumptions. For example, suppose I asked you to think of a person riding a horse. Some of you, by virtue of your background or imagination, might picture a cowboy galloping through the mountains. Others of you might instinctively envision a girl, jumping gates in an arena. Your mind’s eye colors things differently than others based on your experiences. No two people ever perfectly communicate. However, the more clearly we communicate, the greater the ability to trust.

Clear communication is difficult for another reason. Some studies suggest that over 90% of the meaning we derive comes from non-verbal cues that one person gives to another. That means only 10% of communication is based on words we say! Clear communication is work. As Bill Gates said, “The vision is really about empowering workers, giving them all the information about what’s going on so they can do a lot more than they’ve done in the past.”

Tips for Being a Clear Communicator:

  • Listen.
  • Empathize.
  • Avoid manipulation. Don’t overstate or understate.
  • Speak honestly and without exaggeration.
  • Stay focused and avoid distractions.
  • Ask questions.
  • Glean information from the non-verbal communication.
  • Keep an open mind and do not jump to conclusions.
  • Do not criticize.
  • Simplify the complicated.
  • First seek to understand, and then to be understood.
  • Mean what you say.

The Impact of Compassion

Who do you trust more, firefighters or mortgage brokers? Librarians or lawyers? Nurses or salespeople? One of the biggest reasons for trust is the perception that someone is concerned beyond themselves for the good of the whole. Firefighters and nurses care for others by nature of their jobs. But we wonder if the salesperson really has our best interest in mind. Don’t worry if you are in a less trusted line of work. Resolve to be among the trusted in your field. Show that you think beyond yourself; you will be unique and successful in your industry.

Do not underestimate the bottom-line impact of compassion. The ability to show care, empathy, and compassion is a heavy component of trust. The ability is rooted in two long-standing virtues. The first is being able to “walk in someone else’s shoes” and understand things from his or her experience. The second is continually acting out, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” On a basic level, the link between care and trust is fundamental. The aphorism is true; “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Though Milton Freidman famously claimed in 1970 that the social responsibility of business is to increase profits, things have changed. Forty years later people want to do business with those who have concern for the whole of humanity. President and CEO of the world’s largest independent PR firm and trust researcher, Richard Edelman noted, “We’ve moved from a shareholder to a stakeholder world in which business must recast its role to act in the public’s interest as well as for private gain.”(www.edelman.com/trust/2009). Even Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, acknowledged that the ultimate goal of business is not to make a profit. “Profit is the reward one gets for serving the general welfare,” according to Author and Professor Walter Wink in his article Globilization and Empire: We Have Met the Evil Empire and it is US.

No matter your profession, challenge yourself to start thinking like the customer, patient, client, congregation member, or student. Think of their needs and their challenges. Care about THEM. Give them a great experience. Make them feel valued. Not only is it fun and self-gratifying, but it will also help you gain The Trust Edge.

The Greatest Secret of the Magnetic Person

One secret and irresistible quality of magnetic people is that they’re grateful. They are genuinely thankful, and it shows in their interactions with others. Even though we don’t usually think of gratefulness as a major personality trait, it actually goes a long way towards shaping who we are. In fact, Dennis Prager, the researcher and talk radio host, conducted a study on happiness for his 1998 book, Happiness Is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual. What, he wondered, was the biggest determining factor in happiness? After numerous surveys, he found that the usual suspects–occupation, economic level, relationship status, geographic location, and ethnicity–didn’t really matter. Every one of these categories included people who were happy as well as those that were unhappy. What mattered most? Gratitude. People who learn to be thankful are more content and fulfilled. The single greatest commonality of happy people is an attitude of gratitude. And people find that attractive.

Devote a few minutes each day to thinking about what you are thankful for in your life. Some experts recommend making a list of three to five things each morning. It only takes a moment, but many people find that it improves their day and helps them cultivate a habit of gratitude. Become conscious of blessings you take for granted. Does this mean we should not be critical or pessimistic about real injustice? Of course not! But consider the way magnetic traits most often motivate the greatest connection and the greatest good.

Prioritize to Be Most Effective

While I agree with Ben Franklin’s idea, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” countless companies have wasted time and money on strategic plans that are collecting dust. People spend lots of time planning but very little time turning those plans into daily actionable tasks. Some suggest that putting your goal in the mirror so you see it every day will make it come true. I would suggest that your mission statement belongs on your mirror, and your goals and tasks associated with achieving your mission are meant for action. Daily clarity leads to accomplishing the most important things every day. Difference Making Actions (DMAs) are the best way I have found to be clear on a daily basis. They will keep you from having a day where you feel like you are busy but getting nothing done. The following idea comes from Charles Schwab, the first American to be paid a million dollar salary.

In the early 1900s, Schwab was President of the Bethlehem Steel Company. The small steel company was struggling. A business consultant named Ivy Lee told Schwab that he could share in 15 minutes a strategy with Schwab’s managers that would double productivity. When Schwab inquired about the price for the help, Lee said, “After using it for six months, you can pay me what you think its worth.”

Here’s what Ivy Lee told Charles Schwab and his managers: “Every night, at the end of each day, write down the six most important things that need to get done the next day. Write only six, no more. Prioritize them with number one being the most important. In the morning, start with number one and do only number one until it is completed. Do not go on to number 2 until number one is completed. When number one is completed go on to number 2, then do only number 2 until it is completed. And so on. If you get done with all of them you can start a new list.”

Only a few months passed when Mr. Lee received a letter from the Bethlehem Steel Company. Inside the envelope, Mr. Lee found a check in the amount of $25,000 ($250,000 in today’s dollars) and a note from Schwab saying the lesson was the most profitable he had ever learned. The voluntary payment to Mr. Lee was quite a bargain considering that Bethlehem Steel went on to become one of the giants in the steel industry and one of the most successful corporations in U.S. history.

How to Implement the DMA Strategy:

  1. First thing every morning, take a sticky note.
  2. At the top write your most important current goal.
  3. Then write the numbers 1-5 down the page.
  4. Next to the 1, write the most important thing you could do today to accomplish that goal. Then write the next most important things under 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Plan Ahead to Stay Ahead

Plan+AheadIt’s hard to get a running start on the day without a plan. You don’t want to waste your creative morning time wondering what you should do today. If you want to attack your day instead of having it attack you, use this solid strategy. Take the last 15 minutes of a workday to plan out and prioritize the activities for the next day. This will set you up for success and also keep you from forgetting about important tasks or appointments. “Every minute you spend planning saves you an average of approximately 10 minutes in execution” says Brian Tracy in his book “Eat That Frog!” When you take time to plan you save time in the end, so why not plan ahead?

Here are 2 strategies to help you plan tomorrow today:

  1. Run the numbers. Use this effective strategy to prioritize your To Do List. Count the items on your To Do List, and then number them in order from most important to least important. Use the numbers one through seven, for example, giving the most important item the seven. The next most important item gets a six, and so on. After you have finished your first set of numbers, repeat the process, only this time in order of urgency. That is, figure out what must be done soonest and give it a seven, what is second most urgent gets a six, etc. When you are done, add the two numbers together. Those with the highest combined scores are to be done first, and on down through the line. By going through this easy process, you ensure that you’re spending your time on what matters most. For some, this may become part of the daily routine. For others, this method may be a one-week learning experience. Give it a try. It will help you prioritize your tasks in a way that makes sense.
  2. Put it on paper. Without being overly detailed, write or type your schedule for the day. Documenting your activities will keep you on track toward finishing your work for the day. Crossing finished items off can be very satisfying.

Listening Builds Trust

Growing up on the farm as the youngest of six kids, I learned how to eat fast, talk fast, and interrupt my siblings. Listening has not always come easily to me, and I’m not alone. Listening is a fundamental skill of genuine success, and it’s hard to be great or trusted without it. The benefits of listening include more trust, better understanding, stronger marriages, happier kids, and increased respect at work. Still, being a good listener is hard work!

I learned a great lesson while talking with one of my closest friends. He was telling me about something troubling him in a hallway during the lunch hour. Several people passed by us, stopping to say hello along the way. Each time, even as my friend continued talking, I would look up and speak a friendly greeting. Finally, after a few of these interruptions, my friend simply stopped talking and said, “You don’t care. You are not listening to what I am saying.” What he said permanently changed my outlook on listening. He was absolutely right, and I knew it immediately. Rather than focus on his words, I was showing him he wasn’t worthy of my attention. Bad listening habits aren’t just rude; they are expensive. To this day, I’m grateful for his candor, because listening is such an important factor in gaining someone’s trust.

I will never forget being in the boardroom for a staff meeting at one of my first jobs. The meeting was supposed to be an opportunity to deal with new business, talk through current issues, and raise any concerns. During the meeting I got a firsthand look at the impact listening has on personal trust and credibility. The board director, brilliant in many parts of running an organization, was wrapping up the session. With everything else on the agenda complete, he asked if there was anything else to discuss. Before anyone could answer, he turned his back to the staff, left the room, and let the door slam shut behind him. All the faces in the room were full of disbelief. I knew there were some who wanted to discuss a specific problem. The director lost his team that day. The director was competent and committed to his job but was not fully trusted. An unwillingness to listen is one of the fastest trust killers.

8 Tips for Effective Listening:

When done genuinely and appropriately, the following will increase communications and trust.

  1. Keep eye contact. Look at the person talking. You’ll have an easier time paying attention, and they’ll be grateful for your focus.
  2. Listen with your body. Nod and gesture with your hands to show you’re keyed in to what the other person is saying. Make sure your posture and movements don’t suggest you’re bored or restless.
  3. Practice patience. When someone is speaking to you, resist the urge to have something ready to say in return. Listen carefully to what they’re saying before answering.
  4. Empathize. Listening isn’t just about the message. Intent and context are important, so try to make a habit of seeing things from their point of view. Try to really put your feet in the speaker’s shoes. Avoid comments like, “I totally understand what you are going through.”
  5. No one completely understands what someone else is going through. When we acknowledge that fact, our credibility as a listener goes way up.
  6. Be present. Ask, “Am I present in this conversation?” Keep your focus on track.
  7. Avoid answering the electronic interrupter. The phone, PDA, or email can be a useful means of communication. But if you are with someone, taking an interruption is one of the fastest ways to show you don’t really care about him or her.
  8. Hold one conversation at a time.

Leaders are Readers

My grandmother was known for reading a book a day. I’m not exaggerating! As a matter of fact, she is famous in our family for reading all of the books in two libraries! She had the habit of waking at 4:00 in the morning to have quiet time to read. Grandma Esther loved to learn. Imagine what you could learn just by intentionally reserving time each day to read. I hope to instill this love of reading in my children as well.

Leadership expert, John C. Maxwell says, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” One of the outstanding leaders I know is Nate Parks. Whether he is taking his kids to an activity or waiting for the gas tank to fill, he always has a book with him. By having the reading material with him at all times, looking for chances to read a few more pages, Nate reads many books a year. Mrs. Klein, my daughter’s kindergarten teacher wisely said, “Reading is critical because in the first three years of school, one learns to read. After that, one reads to learn.”

Maybe getting up at 4:00 isn’t an option for you, but here are some tips to help you get some reading done.

  • Keep a book with you whenever you can
  • Read everywhere you can. This means on the bus, while waiting in line, or any time that you get a few minutes.
  • Take a little time to read before bed, it can help you relax.
  • Read different types of books. Mix it up.
  • Learning how to speed read can be helpful but reading too fast can lead to decreased comprehension.

How a Trusted Leader Gains an Edge

In the late 1980s, Whole Foods Company Chairman and CEO, John Mackey, set the pay ceiling for his executives at no more than eight times the pay of an entry-level employee. This ceiling has been raised a few times since then, but Whole Foods Company is one of the few international companies to have a pay ceiling at all. Mackey has successfully opposed the unionization of his stores, not because of a disrespect for his workers, but because his competitive wages and progressive benefits packages would make unionization counter-productive.

Amidst the high growth of the health food store chain, it would have been easy for Mackey to demand a larger salary. Instead, he refused his stock option bonus because it would have violated company rules. Later, Mackey reduced his own salary to $1 per year, donated all his stocks to charity, and set up a $100,000 emergency fund to be used by employees who were facing financial problems. While this was an uncommon gesture for a CEO, Whole Foods employees were not shocked by it. Mackey’s character and his priorities were established long before Fortune Magazine discovered him.

Mackey set an example for his organization. He’s trusted, top to bottom, and has used that trust to spread a vision for greater impact and a stronger company. As a result, Whole Foods has grown from one store to more than 200, becoming the world’s largest organic retailer. Profits have grown beyond $200 million. By keeping his word as clean as his food, Mackey’s been able to lead his company through an intense period of growth. Though his leadership style is bold and unusual, you cannot argue with his unbelievable level of integrity and resulting success. Mackey has developed The Trust Edge.

Great Leaders Take Responsibility

I have seen time and again how the committed take responsibility for their actions. In our high-litigation culture, there’s always someone else to blame. It can be easy to point the finger at suppliers, underlings, partners, and managers that just can’t seem to get things right. I have yet to meet this mass of completely incompetent workers, which leads me to think we might be trying to steer some of the fault away from where it belongs–on ourselves. Deflecting blame is no way to build trust. Not only is owning up to our actions the right thing to do, but it can often overcome negative consequences. For an example, we needn’t look any farther than former Navy sub commander Scott Waddle, whose ship collided with a Japanese fishing boat, killing nine civilians. Although an investigation determined that some of his men had made errors, Captain Waddle took responsibility for the incident. While he was reprimanded for the accident, he has been largely regarded as a hero for taking full responsibility for his actions and the actions of his crew, never once diverting any criticism to them.

Great leaders take responsibility. This lesson is hard for many to learn. Major League Baseball buried itself more deeply under a scandal surrounding the use of illegal steroids. As the media dug in its claws, an interesting trend emerged: The players who have been forthright with their wrongdoings have, by and large, been forgiven. In fact, a few have been praised for their integrity and candor. Imagine that a group of icons, shown to have broken the rules, are vindicated simply by coming clean. On the other hand, some players have been unwavering in their denials, even in the face of overwhelming evidence and testimony. Some may even face criminal and obstruction charges. While everyone has the right to clear his or her name if wrongly accused, being honest in the first place is the right thing to do.