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The Power of Communication: Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty, and Lead Effectively by Helio Fred Garcia

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Effective communicators take change seriously. They ground their work in moving people to be different, to think differently, to feel differently, to know or do things differently. Effective communicators also take audiences seriously. They work hard to ensure that all engagements move people toward their goal. That means caring about what audiences think and feel now, and what it will take to get them to about what audiences think and feel now, and what it will take to get them to think and feel something else. To do this it is important to listen carefully to the audience’s reaction, and adapting where needed.

Effective communicators also take words seriously. They know that words trigger world views and provoke reactions. They plan their engagements so that the right words are used to trigger the right reaction. Effective communicators also know that the best communication can be counterproductive if it isn’t aligned with action. Effective communicators take seriously the need to package all that an audience experiences—the verbal, the visual, the abstract, and the physical—into one powerful experience.

This book is grounded in nine fundamental leadership communication principles that together contribute to becoming a habitually strategic communicator:

1. See communication as the continuation of business by other means: It is intentional, it is interactive, it is intended to provoke a reaction.

2. To move people, meet them where they are.

3. Walk the talk.

4. Control the communication agenda.

a) Will those who matter to us expect us to do or say something now? If so, we need to act and communicate now.

b) Are others talking about us now, shaping the perception about us, among those who matter to us? Do we have reason to believe they will be soon? If so, we need to communicate quickly and fully before others define the crisis, our motives, or our actions.

c) Will silence be seen as indifference or as an affirmation of guilt? If so, we need to not be silent, but rather to engage fully to prevent the perception of indifference.

d) If we wait, will we lose the ability to control the outcome? If so, we should not wait.

If the answer to all four questions is no, then the leader should watch and wait, prepare to engage stakeholders, and then engage whenever the answer to any of them turns from no to yes. But as soon as the answer to any of the four questions is yes, the leader needs to overcome fear, inertia, embarrassment, or anxiety, and engage stakeholders effectively and quickly.

5. Remember that even small events, changes, or blunders can have big consequences.

6. Plan ahead and align tactics with strategy.

7. Invest in continuous improvement in communication skills.

8. Harness the power of language and of framing.

9. Understand how the human brain works.

When shaping communication recognise a paradox of crisis communication: that if you want others to not talk about you, sometimes you need to say more than you may initially want to. Because all effective communication is goal-oriented, intended to change something, an effective leader or leadership team focuses on what it wants stakeholders to know, think, feel, and do, and the ways to get those stakeholders to change so that they will know, think, feel, and do so.

Frame a situation – often before the audience do so that you have done it for them. Use mirror neurons to your advantage- show empathy first before providing a solution about what you are going to do about it. We feel first, and then we think. As a result, leaders need to meet emotion with emotion before they can move audiences with reason. Humans are wired to connect with each other. Mirror neurons allow people to actually experience sensory perception from afar. Humans are empathic. We feel with other people. Mirror neurons are a powerful connection mechanism, and effective leaders connect with audiences not merely intellectually and emotionally, but also physically. Leaders too often assume that facts matter, that logic prevails, and that if only they let the facts speak for themselves stakeholders will understand and agree

Primacy means the audience remembers what they hear first. Recency means they remember what they hear last. And the Rule of Threes means they can’t remember more than three things. This places a premium on keeping things simple and repeating key points.

When leaders are speaking to audiences that are under stress—even if the audience is merely tired or distracted—the leader can take the amygdala into account in determining how the content is structured and how the audience is engaged. Here are five ways to engage effectively:

1. Establish connection before saying anything substantive. And remember that the connection is physical. Techniques to connect include asking for the audience’s attention, if only with a powerful and warm greeting, followed by silence and eye contact. The key is to make sure the audience isn’t doing something else so that they pay attention.

You may want to think of the selective attention test by Simons and Chabris. Think of the leader as the gorilla, and the audience’s distraction as counting basketballs. You need to get the audience to stop counting and to pay attention to the gorilla.  If this means nothing to you please see this:

2. Take the Primacy Effect seriously. Say the most important thing first once you have their attention. The most important thing should be a powerful framing statement that will control the meaning of all that follows. Remember that frames have to precede facts.

3. Take the Recency Effect seriously. Close with a recapitulation of the powerful framing statement that opened the presentation.

4. Make it easy to remember. Keep in mind how hard it is for people to listen, hear, and remember. Leaders need to constantly repeat the key themes, within any given presentation, and in general as a matter of organizational strategy. It doesn’t matter bored you may be with saying the same thing, thee audience needs to hear it, again and again. As a general principle, people need to hear things three times if they are to even pay attention to it. Due to the fact that any given audience member at any time may be distracted or inattentive, he or she is unlikely to hear or attend to everything that is said. Also, the fact is when people are under stress, they have difficulty hearing, listening, and remembering. So leaders need to repeat key points far more than three times to be sure that everyone has heard it at least three times. One of the burdens of leadership is to have a very high tolerance for repetition.

5. Follow the Rule of Threes: Have three main points. But no more than that!

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