What is a powerful and prolific communicator?
Prolific is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “marked by abundant inventiveness or productivity” and powerful as “having great power, prestige, or influence”. In the context of communication, it means being able to effectively influence the conversation or mindset of others. In other words, an effective communicator can aid conversations around challenges or disagreements and can help promote ideas.
So, what differentiates prolific and powerful communicators from average ones?
Differentiating Skills in Powerful and Prolific Communicators
There are two specific attributes:
- Clarity of the message/idea/concept
- Clearly defining the outcome (i.e.: what success looks like)
Let’s use a typical new to the team example. Irina has just been appointed to lead a team of ten specialized engineers. The team has an average tenure with the company of eight years and is seen as average performing, down from their superstar days a couple of years ago. Recently Dimitri and his colleagues have been quietly questioning the team’s direction and strategy. Irina’s predecessor, Boris, was not a strong communicator. He thought that team communication was a time-consuming activity with little return on time invested! Irina wants (and needs) to bring the team along, so they collectively deliver on the company’s strategic objectives. Irina wants your advice on how best to achieve this outcome…
Clarity of Messaging
How many times have you been in a meeting where you felt like you were at the end of a tin can because the problem itself was unclear? Inevitably someone in the room thankfully asks the basic “so what” question!
Helpfully, a clear problem statement goes a long way towards resolution through the simple act of focus. This has been stated in various forms over the years by the likes of Charles Kettering (Engineer) and John Dewey (Philosopher, Psychologist, and Educator). The main takeaway is the importance of specificity in defining the problem requiring resolution. This is also part of design thinking research.
A problem statement of: “individuals are annoyed waiting for slow elevators to take them up to their office floor”. Solutions could quickly move to speed up elevators, installing new elevator shafts, or encouraging the use of stairs. Whereas the problem might be totally different, say boredom of waiting. For instance, TV entertainment may help to change their perception of time. The example shows how problem framing effectively focuses solutions in a particular direction, increasing the importance of the framing skill.
Using a different example, imagine hearing “we have a strategy problem”. This could mean many different things. Perhaps our strategic operational plan is unclear? Perhaps employees are not performing well again the strategy? Or perhaps the market doesn’t understand the company’s strategy? You can imagine sitting in that meeting and hearing random suggestions and comments. All because the problem is unclear and vague. A better choice might have been “we have a problem communicating to customers about our product development roadmaps”. Therefore a clearer statement will ensure a more pointed discussion where meaningful solutions can emerge.
Defining a successful outcome
Following clarity of the problem statement, we need to turn our attention to defining success. This is important because it leads directly to the quality of the team’s performance, individually and collectively. Recognizing the importance of clarity in communication raises an interesting question around where responsibility lies when a team falls short of expectations. So often today, it falls on individual contributors whereas in fact it more appropriately lies with the leader.
It is critical to articulate clearly what the work outcomes need to be when communicating strategic objectives. No team member should experience confusion about what their role is in achieving the plan(s).
Problem Definition example
For instance, the Chief People Officer (CPO), Alex, implemented a companywide coaching program for all employees in a leadership position a year ago, and the results are falling short of expectations. The company continues to experience haphazard results – some areas are performing very well and some poorly. So the company hires you to turn it around. You speak to Alex and find out that they announced the program without clarity on what success would look like. Working together, a revised communication plan emerges. The coaching program communication now headlines with “Provide consistent coaching to all of our leaders to ensure every employee understands their individual and team objectives, and their potential career paths.” From this strategic statement emerges Alex’s performance expectations:
- Bi-weekly one to one meetings with each team member to discuss successes and address challenges
- Monthly team meetings to share strategic company information on customer wins, internal successes, and stories
- Quarterly performance check-in meetings to review progress relative to goals and adapt goals as necessary to support company objectives
- Annual career discussions to track performance and capabilities against desired opportunities
Through the exercise of defining outcomes, it is important to remember that the aim is to provide clarity on the direction (the what) and not dictate the path (the how) to follow. By this I mean, it is not about micromanaging – that behaviour is a corrosive force within teams.
What we can define, we can delegate to others – that’s the golden rule to remember.
Let’s return to Irina. In her case, Irina would do well to hold a brainstorming session to identify the underlying reasons for the team questioning the direction and strategy. Additionally, this step is helpful, particular for new leaders, to capture the issue clearly and without making incorrect assumptions. From here, she can define in clear terms the problem by synthesizing the team’s feedback during the session, so they know she has heard them correctly. From here she can move to define the outcome, preferably with the team, so they feel included considering the previous leader’s approach.
Powerful and prolific communication (aka effective communication) requires effort to be precise and succinct about the issues or problems that need resolution or the work outcomes to achieve. It then follows that avoiding acronyms, jargon, or cultural expressions that may serve to confuse the intended meaning of what needs communicating is important.
As in all human-based skills, powerful communication requires a time investment each day. A few minutes is often enough to prepare your messaging. Messaging should therefore be practical, relatable, and clear. Combining a big picture view with clear messaging is a clear recipe for becoming a powerful and prolific communicator, with one inevitable outcome – your success!
Sign in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your views and ideas for how effective communication can be developed as effortlessly as possible.
Give it a try!
Credit Sofa Cartoon: wedesignerdepot
Credit Telephone Cartoon: unknown author