Enrique Sueiro. Director Corporate Communication Management Program. IE Business School
30 September 2016
Listen with humility, make sure you have truth on your side and convey things coherently. That is the logical sequence for a communication process on both a personal and corporate level, and the key to credible messages.
New things are not good just because they are new, but rather only if they really are good. In much the same way, old things are not bad just because they are old, unless they really are bad. In short, the key lies not with the passage of time, but with the direction the compass dial needle takes. Communication is not about speaking a lot of languages, but rather about contributing or learning something.
Although the only way a person can improve is by changing, not all changes bring improvement, and noticing change is by no means an automatic process, particularly if the transformation goes deep. A change for the better requires thought, and thinking is not compatible with the ever increasing speed things now move at, coupled with mental dispersion.
These observations can also apply to personal and corporate communications, where the basic premise is that in order to communicate you have to start by listening in order to understand rather than to answer. Another important thing is that in the strictest sense of the word, communicating is only possible if it is based on the truth. I would take that further and say that lying is akin to prostituting communication. And a third basic fact is that the more you connect with the outside world, the less connected you are with your inner world.
The following four facts can be applied to all organizations: Even the best communication cannot make up for bad management, and the worst communication cannot discredit the best management team. Bad communication makes bad management worse, and good communication strengthens good management teams.
Keeping things brief, although positive in itself, is not enough to make for good communication, the same way that the vitality of an organization or society comes from a lifeblood comprised of knowledge accumulated over the years rather than just new knowledge. It’s really quite stimulating to remember the novelty of wisdom.
“Knowing how to communicate knowledge” is in line with the underlying premises of “wisdom-infused lifeblood” and “personal sovereignty”. In both personal and corporate spheres lifeblood is not enough, even when it is wisdom-infused lifeblood. Many a big project and promising leadership role is ruined by inexperience in the field of communication. There are plenty of past and present-day examples.
Listen with humility, have truth on your side and convey things coherently
Communicating with power verbs is similar to managing. In order to get to grips with them easily, I am going to highlight three, one for each conjugation: listen, have, and convey. All three come accompanied by noun forms that are both deep and important.
Listening is the verb that feeds communication. Like other great words, it has been somewhat devalued by its growing rhetorical use and its widespread practical deployment. Everyone talks about listening, and yes we certainly talk more than anything else. It is worth noting the increasing and obvious application of this verb in digital environments (take note of what is said on social networks), while the act of listening is dwindling in personal spheres as conversations are postponed, abbreviated, compressed, interrupted, and noisy.
The noun that best goes with the verb to listen is humility. From the Latin word humus (fertile soil), a humble person has their feet on the ground, is in touch with reality, and, precisely because of that, is committed to changing it for something new which is essentially good.
Humility permits a person to learn, which is only possible to do by listening, not by talking. It also makes for an agile mind, open to positive new things (progress) and able to identify negative practices (regression).
The only effective combination of verb and noun is “listening with humility”. People who use this style of communication strengthen their position of leadership because they develop skills such as learning, demanding, motivating, asking for forgiveness, rectifying… growing.
This type of management style has a key result, namely the ability to manage perceptions. The mere act of listening with humility brings the realization that in the face of one reality (based on data) there are different possible perceptions, depending on the context and the emotions of the affected people. Hence reality can best be described using the definition of adolescence from the point of view of adolescents themselves - that time of life when your parents act weird…
Making changes and managing business organizations and institutions, without listening with the necessary level of humility, will only serve to guarantee conflicts that could have been avoided, and result in a great deal of lost time, energy, and, of course, money.
Managing perceptions, communication management skills
To have is the second power verb. I am well aware that it is not a very sophisticated verb, but it has a great deal of value compared to the devaluated version, namely to seem to have. In the field of personal and corporate communication it is easy to get these mixed up with each other, even more so when a person has not yet started to listen with humility.
The adjective that goes with the verb to have is “truth,” which provides a base for genuine communication and which often falls victim to environments where appearances hide a multitude of sins. As we are all guilty of this at some time or other, there is no point in denying it… and the same applies when we build things up into something they are not.
It is a good idea to remember that transparency does not mean going around baring our soul, but rather in showing the right things to people who deserve as much. Some suggested guidelines on how to act in this regard are derived from the aforementioned skill of managing perceptions. In communication, the decisive fact is not what management says, but rather what others perceive the message or how they interpret it. Like the person who goes to the psychologist and says “Doctor, I have a complex about being ugly,” only to be told “That’s no complex!”
The last of the three power verbs that keep lifeblood of wisdom circulating is “convey.” Many people see this particular action as the essence of communication and the determining action. I don’t deny how important it is to talk, but I have to confirm that it is far more effective when it happens after, and not before, the act of listening with humility, and when it is based on truth. I see this as the logical sequence of these three concepts and as the most effective from a business perspective.
The noun that goes together with “convey” is coherence, which, if the other two verbs have been duly applied, is perceived as such by people who feel they have been listened to and have seen for themselves that what they are being told is the truth.
The listen-have-convey process means that credible messages can be put across quite easily, given that they merely serve to confirm what people already perceive. Credibility is not the result of words, but rather facts. Hence it isn’t necessary, or even a good idea, to convey multiple messages, because, to cite just one of several reasons, too many messages make for dispersed understanding.
Inexperienced managers – communicating badly even when it’s good news
Just as when a person exercises any kind of power, when it comes to communication its effectiveness is based more on that person’s authority (leadership) than his or her official power. There is no need to worry when you are what you say you are. But when something is incoherent, no words can transmit something that we are not in a sustainable fashion. Credibility is like prestige - it is not something you bestow on yourself, but rather what others consider you to be worthy of.
A description by Franz Kafka of one of the marks that his father left on him in life serves to illustrate this point: “You, a figure of such tremendous authority for me, did not yourself abide by the commandments you imposed”. It appears that in this case the message the father wanted to convey began by being transmitted, but with no coherence.
The fact that the verb “convey” holds third position in our list of essential verbs does not mean that it is any less important. Getting the transmission of a message right can be the winning stroke in an exemplary communication process – and vice versa. After listening, then having a truthful message, getting the transmission part of the process wrong can mean your previous achievements have been in vain. A clear example was the first appearance of the presidential candidate after winning the Spanish elections in 2016. To his peculiar skill of communicating already bad news as if they were even worse, he managed to add the ability to communicate good news just as badly.
Just as ethics should not be considered a bonus when it comes to business management, it should come as no surprise that lifeblood brings wisdom with it, or that senior management, in any sector, needs at least basic communication skills. At the beginning of the 21st century, I fused the concepts of Communication and Management to form the term Communicagement, which can be taken as meaning you manage if you communicate.
Communicating the wisdom of a company’s lifeblood - a challenge for leaders and managers who are what they say they are.