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A well-known proverb says the following about communication:
“It’s not what you say, but how you say it.”
The proverb is deservedly well known. Delivery has an enormous impact on our ability to connect with an audience. Authors Dan and Chip Heath have written a bestseller, Made to Stick, devoted to helping leaders land their ideas in the minds and memories of listeners. Applying tips such as simplicity, emotional appeal, and storytelling to our communication reaps huge dividends.
An extension to the communication proverb, says:
“It’s not only what you say, and how you say it, but also when you say it.”
True enough. Timing plays a vital role in the way we communicate. Awareness of emotions, mood, and context all factor into effective communication. Given the nature of their roles, salespeople have no choice but to understand this added dimension of communication. A sales pitch delivered at an opportune moment seals the deal, but the same appeal falls flat if inserted at the wrong time.
Even if we’re not in sales, we know the value of timing from personal experience. In the emotional aftermath of failure, well-intentioned criticism feels like a punch in the mouth. However, the same criticism received after we’ve had a chance to cool down is readily welcomed.
Delivery impacts our communication, and so does timing, but in this edition of Leadership Wired, I’d like to take the communication proverb one step further.
“It’s not just what you say, how you say it, and when you say it, but also who says it.”
For a leader, communication involves more than presentations and speechmaking. It’s not an event, but rather a skill. A leader’s daily behavior screams to those he or she leads. Does the leader have a track record of honesty? If so, his words carry the weight of trust. Does a leader take the time to listen? If not, she will be tuned out—regardless of a silver tongue. Is a leader likeable? If so, he predisposes people to be open and receptive to communication.
In the remainder of this lesson, let’s examine the communication benefits a leader wins day by day through consistency of character.
1) Honor Your Agreements – Communication Benefit: Trust
As a leader, never make promises lightly, and when you do, go the extra mile to honor your word. If your actions consistently match your words, you’ll gain an incredible communication asset—trust. I guarantee that following through on your commitments will 1) Involve a high personal cost 2) Be inconvenient 3) Be worth every sacrifice.
2) Display Emotion – Communication Benefit: Authenticity
Don’t be the Tin Man on the job. Have a heart. Try not to wear it on your sleeve, but allow it to infect your workdays with passion. People suspect an emotionless leader of being only partially invested in the mission. Allowing glimpses of your joys and sorrows will endow your communication with authenticity. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
3) Embody Values – Communication Benefit: Credibility
In the 21st century, cream-of-the-crop employees are not looking for a place to work; they’re searching for a cause to join. They’ll be attracted to strong values, but they’ll be put off if they don’t see you modeling them. Be purposeful in acting out your core values and giving them visibility. When people see you insist on values and fight for what you believe, they will find you credible. In communication, this credibility inclines your people to accept your words.
4) Be Generous with Praise – Communication Benefit: Likeability
Here’s a foolproof way to measure your leadership: how do you make people feel? Being generous with praise is the best way to win others to your side. People naturally want to be appreciated, and they crave encouragement, so, by all means, don’t withhold your praise from them.
Credit them when they do well. Appoint yourself as head cheerleader, chief supporter, and number one fan of your people. They’ll admire you for it, and you’ll gain the advantage of likeability when you communicate to them.
5) Listen – Communication Benefit: Respect
There’s no quicker way to earn respect than being slow to speak. Give your people a forum to express their ideas, frustrations, and observations. Better yet, inquire of them. Solicit their input and feedback. When they speak, show you’ve heard them. Implement their ideas when possible, and candidly explain yourself when you cannot act upon their suggestions. Follow through, follow through, and follow through. Listening isn’t passive. It requires you to take notice, take notes, and take action.
If you’ve proved to be a leader who listens, then your people will respect your words. If you’ve shown openness to them, they’ll be infinitely more receptive to the messages you send and the guidance you give.
Dr. John C. Maxwell has authored over 30 books, including such New York Times best-sellers as “Developing The Leader Within You” and “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.”


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