Recently I was talking with Eddie Ezeanu, a friend coach, for lunch. Eddie and I have that kind of camaraderie where we challenge each other’s views and tend to find different perspectives. As he was talking about his niche – which is helping other people how to better communicate, this brought the following debate to mind.
Is communicating with confidence only about attitude?
If you polish your look, wear high heels (for ladies – or even men if you are Prince) or a tailor-made suit, visualize yourself having a round of applause as you finish…Let’s say you develop a confident attitude. You know what you’re going to say, you know what the audience wants, and you know YOU are going to give the message to them.
Is it really enough?
In my company, I’ve been talking to managers about what it takes to make junior people succeed. The answer – which I recognize in myself and other young people I see around, wanting to prove – is often lack of judgment in the business big picture.
In other words, junior people are good with the words, good with the attitude, but often their brains are empty. They know how to impress but they too often forget they don’t have the experience and wisdom.
They’re the “forma fara fond” or “shape without a background”.
So, in a business environment, what does it take to communicate with confidence?
1. Know thy stuff.
Of course, this comes firstly with experience, but there are several ways in which you can fast track your knowledge.
Become an expert – even in a minor niche. Say that to people – don’t be afraid to say publicly that you’re interested in so-and-so field and are aiming to become a specialist in it. People will refer to you, will come looking for you for advice. And the more you answer to questions, the better you will get in your expertise.
I remember when as a student I was exploring coaching as a way to develop people in organizations. I had never done coaching, and all I knew about the field was the result of several books read and picking the brains of a few “wiser older expert” coaches. Yet, somehow, people remembered me as “the chick who knew a lot about coaching” and the image pretty much stayed that way along the years. The difference being that I now have a bit more experience in actually coaching others.
2. Know the environment and see “who’s pulling the strings”
Try to understand the interests of other people. What do they need? What results could make them support you and your idea? How could you approach them? If you talk to them, is there anyone else that should know about it?
Many times the mistakes that I made revolved around thinking that decisions were unilateral – whoever has the authority, makes the call, and no-one should argue about it. That’s almost always wrong. Organizations are systems – you can’t pull a string and expect nothing to happen. Therefore, you must first arrange all other strings that might be impacted, and then, pull yours.
3. Know the impact.
When you present an idea or a proposal, a very big part of its success stands in your audience understanding and appreciating the impact.
So, if you’ve judged them correctly in the previous point, you will know the impact it makes for them. And then, go a step further and see the impact it makes on a larger scale. If it impacts your audience, how will they sell it further? How will it impact their audience? Their people? Their own bosses? Are there any other areas you should take into account? What about the obvious – cost, time, resources involved? When will it become fruitful?
Speak results – speak in terms as concrete as possible.
4. Know what’s next.
Supposing the audience has already bought the statement you made, don’t leave them hanging. Theory says too many sales visits fail just because, at the end, the salesman didn’t have the guts to say “Ok, here’s where you sign. Do you have a pen?”
Be ready with the next steps, clearly. Be ready to show them what they have to do, specifically, and by when. Know who will be accountable, who will be a contributor, and who needs to make the decision. Be clear about your role as well. Are you ready to assume the project manager’s role? What are you going to do about it?
Structured communication – and the ability to judge well, beforehand – is, I believe, a key component in influencing the organization, and something that the younger driving force lacks. Unfortunately, it is learned best through mistakes. Or if someone older and wiser guides you through the pitfalls.
Anyway, I believe that, even when you stumble, a critical point in being confident is admitting you were wrong, having a laugh, and then moving on.