Effective Communication Skills

There’s Earning Power in Your Communications

How do you measure up to Barack Obama?

This is a synopsis on the talk presented at the 2009 CPA Annual Conference by Shiera O’Brien

Did you know that 85% of your earning power lies in how you communicate to the business world around you? How true is that, when you think back to your job interview, where you were offered your salary, based on how persuasively you communicated your value to the company that hired you?  There is always room for improvement even with the best communicators in the business world. Learn some tips here about communicating to build your long-term earning power.

You may be the business face of your organisation – certainly, in the eyes of your clients and other key stakeholders in your business – and as you ascend the career ladder, your communication skills will become even more important to you and the company that invests in you as an employee. You are more than likely going to be standing in front of a team of accountants, Board of Directors or investors, at some point in your job and career, communicating why your ideas should be considered and acted upon for the benefit of your organisation and that all important attentive audience.

It is then no longer about how well you can interpret a P&L balance sheet that will drive your success,   but your ability to win people over to you way of thinking and have them co-operate with you in achieving the common business goals or take action on what you communicate.

Talk to anybody who has left a company of their own volition, you often learn that people don’t leave companies, they leave inflexible – or at worst – poor communicators, who they happen to report to. Consider what you are costing your organisation, if your communication skills are not where they need to be, not to mention what you might be losing in your pocket!

What makes great communicators outstanding?

A great example of an outstanding communicator is the US President, Barack Obama, who demonstrates a unique ability to get people to respond to his calls to action.  Obama shows great presence and charisma in his communication style, which emanates through his powerful and engaging body language.  He carries himself with certainty, calmness and purpose in all interactions, which enhances his sense of authority and draws people to him to hear what he has to say.

In his voice, we hear clear diction on every word he says. There is plenty of vocal variety and an excellent use of silence and pauses to drive home his ideas into the minds and hearts of others.

Obama is eloquent and articulate. He speaks in a language that inspires and includes, and he makes every person feel they are part of his world. This was demonstrated recently in London, when he shook hands with the police man on duty at the door of No. 10 Downing Street. Gordon Brown ignored the policeman! How would you view both leaders based on that micro-communication? Everybody matters in Obama’s eyes and he is about collaboration and inclusion and connection.

Another great attribute of Obama is his willingness to take responsibility and admit and he has made a mistake – a sign of high emotional intelligence. He takes it on the chin and moves on. He can say “I made a mistake, it won’t happen again” and people seem to respect him more for that strength. After 100 days in office, there seem to be good rather than bad reports on his performance and the calibre of relationships he is building inside and outside his organisation and around the world.

How do poor Communicators stand out?

Unlike Obama,  his predecessor, George W. Bush, displayed a high degree of focus on his own interests, and even when he did communicate, he left us all wondering what exactly did he say?  His language and speech patterns were often poorly delivered and incoherent. They certainly didn’t display the rhetoric and standing of a statesman, but a poverty of language, with a worn-out “war-on-terror”  mantra and his notorious “Bush-isms”. Sadly, the legacy left behind is not pretty.  He failed to build international relations with nations around the world.  We could see this as perfect reflection of his inability to communicate and his level of emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, America Inc is still suffering from the fallout, long after his return to his Texas homeland.

How would you rate your own communication skills?

You may not have aspirations to reach the heights of great politician, but where there are people around, the same rules of engagement apply; if you want to enrich the working world of those you work with and increase your earning power, take a hard look at how people respond to you, and it should give you some indication of the calibre of your communication skills. Here are some additional pointers to help you become a great communicator.

Great Communicators are aware of the impact they have on others. 

What do you think people see, hear and feel from you? People interpret your communication in your body-language (55%) and the tone of your voice (38%).Words and content only account for 7%. So, does you body language need opening up, smoothing out, calming down? Does your tone of voice need more inflection or clarity, diction, softness or authority? Do people move towards or away from you? It may be time to get some honest feedback in your work place and from yourself on how you measure up.

Great communicators build great networks across their business contacts.

There are multiple channels of influence you can build now, no matter what stage you are at in your career. Begin with your immediate accounting peers, the key influencers in your organisation, the Sales, Marketing, Operations team, and your most important clients. Make sure they know who you are and how you work. Create links with your industry peers, through the CPA organisation and  use the powerful social networking tools, like Inquisix, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter to build an on-line  network.

It’s important to build your contacts wide and deep, and build a sphere of influence that will serve you as build your financial career. Your ability to reach out across a sphere of Influence, as you advance in your career will determine your future success. As is often said “It is not what you know, it’s who you know that counts, the higher up you go.”

Great communicators invest in themselves. Jim Rohn, an expert in the personal development field always told his clients to “Work harder on yourself, than you do on your business.” That involves taking a deeper look at how you communicate in your spoken and written skills.

The most valuable skill you can develop is deep listening skills and awareness skills. Pay attention to the type of language you use. Is it appropriate to the environment? Are you making the obvious faux pas, using language that does not match your audience, too technical, too casual, i.e. with text message language in your emails?

Do some research and find the right professional development vehicle that will help you on an on-going basis. Toastmasters International (not-for-profit) has an excellent programme for individuals who want to explore their communication and leadership skills.

Great communicators adapt to other people’s styles of communicating.  

In the study of communication, experts speak of the “map not being the territory”, where your version of reality is very different from those around, so consider the reality of others and how they communicate. There may be grain of truth in their views, and seeing different viewpoint, you will always learn something and maybe discover your blind spots. We all have them.

The work world is split between tasks and people, and some are more comfortable with one over the other. The real skill of a great communicator is to smoothly move between both the numbers and the people and build great relationships in the process.

Great communicators have a reputation for being flexible, open and approachable.  

The more open and approachable you are, the better your communication skills and rapport you will have. This can be summarised as a sense of empathy, understanding and flexibility with others.

Like Obama, you can make mistakes, but if you take responsibility for them, respect from others increases. When you have conversations with other, develop a reputation as somebody who talks about possibility and progress rather than what’s broken or impossible. Your language should be peppered with statements like “I am open to hearing your suggestions,  I am going to give it some thought. How can we do this, change this, improve this? What do we need to do to make this happen? How can we take ownership of this?”

Develop a reputation for being approachable and you create opportunities for support when times are tough or when you do become the boss. The big one is, let go of the need to control others and work on building trust. It’s far more powerful.

And finally, take some time to study Obama’s style of communication. You can find plenty of video footage on YouTube. Read his books, if you want understand the man behind this outstanding communicator.

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