It’s Not What You Say, It’s The Way That You Say It

I betray my age by revealing that I repeat the title of this post to the tune of The Fun Boy Three and Bananarama’s big 1980’s pop song ‘It Ain’t What You Do…’ [If you are curious try searching for the pop video via!].

Cheesy pop music aside, I remember an occasion when the CEO of a company I worked for addressed their workforce. The tone of voice, style of delivery and body language was so out of place that the people in the audience (including me) literally started laughing at some of the things he said. It was not a good meeting and I left convinced it was time to move on. When I reflected on the meeting with a colleague I noticed that in the Deputy CEO's message, she said very similar things as the CEO before he spoke. However, it was how she spoke that changed how it was received; I still disagreed with some of her logic but I wasn’t offended by her opinion.

The reason for highlighting this story is that it shows the importance of how you say something as a leader cannot be underestimated. There are so many sources of inspiration for improving technique in communication and I would encourage any leader to keep developing new skills in this area. For example, as someone who struggles with the rules of grammar, I find the book ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’ a wonderful example of the subtle nuances in how we speak, determines what is understood by the audience. When working with leaders, I have observed that how well we engage colleagues often hinges on how the leader approaches the process of communicating in the first place. 

A common approach to communication at work is for a busy leader to follow a 3-step pattern:

A poor way to plan your communications!

  1. Method – What communication do I time for? For instance, it might be a quick email, drafting a document or a making a presentation in a meeting
  2. Purpose – What do I want so share? For instance, it could be to share new procedures or update colleagues on an industry change
  3. Give – Finally, I now share the information.

Though common, where this approach fails is that it starts with the premise that communication should meet the giver’s needs. It is communicating too other people, not with them. Your may be busy but as a leader you cannot succeed without your team/s understanding your message. So why should they receive communication the way you want to give it? After all...

Communication is not what is said or read but rather what is understood.

You already know the information you want to share; the goal is to transfer it in the best way possible to others. Thus, the approach needs to start from a different place. It will be better if you prepare by asking 4 questions:

A better way to prepare your communications!

1.       Whom do I need to communicate with? You need to know something about the audience, their interests or the context they are operating within.

2.       Why am I needing to communicate? Defining the purpose of the communication brings clarity to the message

3.       What is the best style to communicate through? This issue matters. The tone and impression you want to convey can reinforce (or if contradictory undermine) your message

4.       Finally, what is the best method to communicate with? Now the last stage is that you can choose the best method to suit the audience, meet the purpose and fit the style of the message. 

The difference in the two approaches is not just semantics, it is fundamentally revealing of a mindset. If you choose method one it reveals that what you think is more important than the audience. If you choose method two, it is the reverse; you are demonstrating in your attitude that the audience is valuable. And it is that subtle distinction that will come through in how you communicate. Whether your message is popular or not, through the second approach it will be delivered in a way that engages the audience and shows you value the responsibility a leadership role brings.

Communication is not an exact science, so if you want to share a message you must communicate the Know+Do team can offer ideas and tools to enhance your impact. Contact us via the communication method of your choice on (0161) 2804567, @enablingsuccess or