Communication is a challenge at every level of leadership. Powerful communication can be learned, if you build your capacities for personal authenticity, relational connection, behavioural agility and context management.
Communication Can Make Us Cower
We’ve been travelling in Haida Gwaii, a beautiful archipelago of islands off the northern coast of British Columbia. Rose Spit, at the very northern end, appears desolate, but is full of life, if you know where to look. I was moved here by the archetypal creation story of the Haida people, which speaks to overcoming so many of our fears.
“The Raven, one of the most powerful creatures in Haida mythology, was lonely. As he wandered down the beach, he heard noises coming from a clamshell. As he looked into the clamshell, he saw many tiny little creatures hiding within. The Raven coaxed and cajoled and coerced the little creatures to come out and play in his wonderful, shiny, new world and they became the first Haida people.” -Bill Reid, Haida artist
The cowering little people are a powerful image of the uncertainty we all feel when facing something new and unfamiliar. It reminded me of my Executive Coaching clients. As competent, high-functioning leaders, they are not actually cowering! But they can be stumped, puzzled or wondering why familiar behaviours are no longer working for them. While every coaching topic is unique to that individual, what they all have in common is some kind of communication challenge. Every single one.
Interest in Leadership Communication skills is also global, as I found in my recent Mindful Communications for a Global World webinar for the International Coach Federation of Russia
Communication challenges are dear to my heart, and I know from personal experience they can be overcome.As an apparently confident public speaker, my audience does not know that before them stands a formerly shy, stuttering young girl!
So like Raven, let me coax you out of possible communications anxiety with four factors of powerful communication.
Powerful Communication is Authentic
Powerful communication is an authentic expression of you who are. The more clarity and consciousness you have of your thoughts, feelings and attitudes, the more authentic is your communication. What is the essential message you want to convey? What core value is most relevant here? What motivates you to speak up? Critically, what emotions do you want to express? and what are you actually expressing?
One client was a passionate high energy innovator. By becoming aware of his feelings of frustration, he was able to regulate his energy and keep his messages focused and powerful.
Powerful Communication Connects
Powerful communication is relational, connecting you with new people in new ways. The more varied the stakeholders you deal with, the greater the challenge. Do you understand this group of people and what makes them tick? Do you understand how they see you? Do you get the cultural norms, whether those are regional, generational or even departmental?
On client changed from the regulatory side of her sector to the service provider side.The didactic, “this is how it is” style did not transpose well to service providers who must form effective yet flexible partnerships. By understanding the new norms and her unintended impact on others, she was able to powerfully connect both in her organization and the larger community.
Powerful Communication is Agile
Powerful communication is an agile expression of well-honed skills and behaviours. This is the domain of communication models, powerful questions and active listening. [ Check out the Deep Listening guided meditation as a resource for active listening skills.] What is your proportion of questions to statements? What kind of energy level do you exhibit? What is your body stance, or leadership presence in a room? Can you vary this with intention, even when you’re stressed?
One client wanted to to feel confident & communicate his point of view in situations of conflict with dominant personalities. He deliberately altered his body behaviours to expand his personal presence, varying standing and sitting, taking a strong posture, making occasional eye contact.
Powerful Communication Works the Context
Powerful communication effectively works the available processes, tools and information flows. Do you leverage the larger context in which this particular communication is occurring? Do you efficiently use the resources and tools available to you?
One client became a fan of voting buttons for town hall presentations. This gave him a chance to collect his thoughts while getting a read of the participants in the room. Another deliberately sought to understand the expectations of her new role, which moved her from being an expert provider of answers to a trusted advisor who could co-create new solutions to meet an ever-shifting market.
Mindfulness Catalyzes Powerful Communications
A stable mindfulness practice can reduce your daily stress, help you stay focused under pressure and deal with the often unpleasant emotions that come from communication challenges. My book Mind Your Life helps you do just that, in a way that you can customize to suit your style, schedule and intentions.
But you don’t have to be a regular meditator to benefit from greater situational mindfulness. For your next communication challenge:
- ask yourself what one blind spot should you be aware of?
- alter your breath and body posture to foster calm—or energy
- what one communication tool can you make better use of?
- what group norm would you bear in mind?
Then relax, enjoy and know that powerful communication can be coaxed out of any of us!