Joanne Heyman on Enhancing Communication Skills
July 13, 2023
Widely recognized as a transformative force, bringing a mission-driven focus to institutions across sectors, cultures and countries. A highly sought-after coach, facilitator, advisor, and lecturer, her work is often credited with the achievement of sustainable and measurable success, including healthy, thriving cultures. A former Executive Director of pro-social organizations, she brings a practitioners perspective to supporting leaders and teams seeking lasting impact.

Communicating brilliantly is a component of effective leadership at every level. And one of the ways that you enhance the brilliance of your communication skills is to audit your current behavior and make adjustments so that you're not only communicating meaning or specific points, but you're having the impact you desire.

We say things and we write things and we signal things not just to share information, but to create a feeling, knowledge, a connection to the person with whom we're communicating. This is particularly important if you're communicating in a difficult situation. We all get ready, and we've got those talking points, and we've got our script. And we know exactly what we want to say, that's great. But what takes communicating well into the territory of communicating brilliantly, is taking that extra step.

Before you open your mouth, step onto the stage, put your fingers to the keyboard, and you say, at the end of this interchange or at the end of this presentation, how do I want people to feel about what I've said?

There's a lot of talk these days about authenticity. And it's critically important to get to an understanding of the authentic you in the communication sphere. You just start with wherever you are. Think about what it would be to do a personal communication audit. Think about how you communicate. What's your style in writing? What's your style speaking? What are you known for at work and at home? What have you heard about yourself? And what do you honestly believe your strengths are and your weaknesses?

If you want to expand this, one of the things I invite my clients to do is what I call an informal 360. We all know what a 360 is. Some people get a little nervous when they hear that right inside an organization, I'm getting my 360 review. This is informal, and it's fun. And what it really is is an opportunity for you to hold up a certain mirror to yourself for greater understanding. So in an informal 360, you go out to people who you trust, to be honest with you, who have experienced you in different ways, and in different environments. And you ask them, where have you seen me show up incredibly well? Where do you see me struggle? Where have you seen me totally in flow? And where have you seen me just not nail it and not land it? Getting that kind of data from other people, as well as being honest with yourself, is really, really important.

People who communicate really beautifully are clear. They're persuasive. And by persuasive, I don't mean they're beating you over the head with a sales job. I mean, that what they're saying makes sense. And you can understand their point of view and you want to hear more. Great communicators are non-apologetic. I'm sorry, it's only my opinion, but we can all think about those modifiers or those fillers that are used that are apologetic Oh, sorry. No. When you communicate really well, you use simple declarative sentences. No apology. An apology right when you make a mistake is one thing. Apologetic language is not powerful.

Being well paced is a really, really important piece of it. The tone fits the message. You don't start off a serious conversation with a slap, sticky joke. You don't paste a smile on your face to say something that is serious. And by the same token, if you want to create warmth and connection and a feeling of ease and optimism, maybe a smile.

Another really important part of communicating well is listening to learn, not to respond. We've all experienced, I'm sure, the person who as soon as something has left your mouth, they're right in there with their story. They're right in there with their version. They're not learning from what you're saying, they're just waiting for their moment to respond.

My short recommendation is, don't be that person. Be attuned to it and be attuned to that. I am an enthusiast. So I am often so excited to jump in and say what I have to say. And at the worst, that leads to interruptions, which is quite frankly, rude. I feel a little sheepish after I've done it. The other is that I'm sending a signal that I'm not listening to what you're saying, because I'm so eager to say what I have to say. So this listening to learn and not to respond is incredibly important.

Great communicators ask great questions. But you don't have to be in an interview setting to ask a really good question. People who know me now experience me as social and extroverted. But I used to be very, very uncomfortable in certain kinds of social settings, especially if I was traveling for business alone, which I did throughout my 20s and 30s. And I realized that if I would just walk up to somebody and ask them a question, I could start a conversation that could actually be meaningful. So think about asking great questions. And then the flip side of that is answer the question asked.

Another interesting exercise you might want to do is think about creating the operating guide to communicating with me, and then share with others. For example, don't talk to me before my first cup of coffee. I prefer to respond to emails because that gives me time. Please don't text me. I use text for things that are urgent and very timely. I prefer to speak in the morning when I'm fresh and ready, and by the end of the day, I'm done. That would be me. I actually shared this with a client recently who's a theatrical director in his mid 60s. I thought that I had nothing to teach him and he absolutely loved that because he realized that he was having some challenges with his team. And if he could tell them the best way to communicate with him, and as importantly, ask them what are their operating instructions, they could do a much better job. They wouldn't be as frustrated, they wouldn't waste time, they wouldn't harbor negative feelings. So think about the operating instructions as a little analysis to do for yourself and then to share it.



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