I’ve been working for well over 20 years, and sometimes I wish I could go back to my younger self and share some hard-won wisdom about how to communicate effectively. How convenient it would be to whisper in my young ear the knowledge that would save a lot of mistakes, angst and frustration. The only problem is, I wouldn’t have any of my knowledge without regularly, and sometimes spectacularly, failing in the first place. I had to mess up and age in order to fully grasp the lessons in the first place.
While I can’t travel in a time machine to share what I wish I’d known about communicating with my younger self, I can share them with you. Here are just four of the lessons I have learned the hard way. (There are far more than four, but this is a blog post, not a novel.)
1. What I wish I had known about making a case: It’s not about me; it’s about them. Every time I find a message under-performing, a product faltering or a partnership flailing, it’s inevitably because the work being done does not resonate with the audience’s priorities, values and perspective. I have to remember to channel my energy into understanding my audience above myself and speaking to their concerns rather than my own.
2. What I wish I’d known about persuasion: Feeling first, facts later. There are no exceptions to the rule that we must awaken the heart to arouse the mind. We have to move people emotionally before they will take in information — or act. Numbers have their place, but nothing beats a good story that makes them come alive. I have to speak to the soul so the facts have a fighting chance.
3. What I wish I had known about the message: The messenger matters. I can have a stellar message, but if I’ve got the wrong messenger, it won’t matter. We’re in an era where faith in traditional spokespeople and marketers is at a historic low, so people are turning to trusted friends, family, independent authorities and peers for their recommendations. That means I’m often best off with messengers other than myself who are promoting my agenda.
4. What I wish I had known about perspective: Be generous when you’re hungry. Some of the best advice I ever heard was from business and leadership guru Seth Godin, who said: “It’s difficult to be generous when you’re hungry. Yet being generous keeps you from going hungry. Hence the conflict.” When you are solely focused on extracting something from others – instead on what you give them – you get in trouble. It’s not what I need; it’s what value I provide. Caring about delivering for colleagues and customers creates prosperity. When communicating, own the great space of what you give rather than the tiny territory of what you need. The former is a much more fertile place to make a business and a life.
Story written by Kayta Andresen, President and COO/Incoming CEO at ePals