Power of Communication, Part I

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality” – Warren G. Bennis

Last week in my post “In Focus”, I touched on having a vision. Earlier this week I cracked open Helio Fred Garcia’s The Power of Communication and I’ve been devouring it daily. As I was reading, I found myself thinking: “How can I make sure these concepts stick?”

I’ve been a reader almost all my life, but taking notes on what I read has never been a strong point for me. Only recently have I gotten over my “Don’t write in books!” tic and begun underlining as I read. I’m pretty sure my aversion to marking up pages was something I picked up when I was so young I really shouldn’t have been taking a pen to a book, as toddler scribbles don’t exactly improve readability.  At any rate, two decades later I finally decided to embrace the adult scribbles in an effort to get more out of my books.

But for Power of Communication, it seems like the underlining isn’t really enough to hammer those juicy nuggets of knowledge home. Since I don’t have anybody assigning me book reports, I thought I would attempt to explicate some of the points that stuck out to me via my blog.

To give some background, Mr. Garcia’s book takes concepts from Warfighting (Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1) and applies the same strategies to communication. If you’ve never read Warfighting, you might be thinking “Woah, I’m not looking to kill anybody with my communication, here, Preston.” Relax. Detailed instructions for “eliminating hostiles” is in some other publication. Warfighting is much more aligned with the likes of Carl von Clausewitz’s On War. You know the one: “War is merely a continuation of policy by other means.” So more “policy and strategy” and less “blood and guts.”

Power of Communication actually draws pretty heavily from On War as well, but very little of this book so far (I’m four chapters in) is militaristic. Rather it’s much more about providing the right frame of mind for leaders to communicate intentionally and effectively.

“Effective communication isn’t about pushing information to an audience. It isn’t about facts or data. It isn’t about what sounds good in the moment. It isn’t about spin. And it certainly isn’t about what makes the speaker feel good.”  – Helio Fred Garcia, The Power of Communication

Take that, PowerPoint.

Turn off the side-show and turn off the self-indulgence. Communication is about making things happen. That happening can be as simple as getting a single listener to entertain a new idea, or as big as rallying thousands of revolutionaries towards an ideal. Garcia says “The only reason to engage an audience is to change something, to provoke a reaction.” He goes on to explain that effective communication is an act of will, not towards an inanimate object but towards a living entity that reacts, as the entity has a will of its own.

It becomes a battle of sorts, one that requires strategic positioning and movements. Not to say that leaders and communicators should look at their audience as antagonists, but merely recognizing that people aren’t static. Hearts and minds don’t just sit there and allow you to shove information and rhetoric at them without some sort of reaction. Effectiveness depends on the leader’s ability to anticipate those reactions and adapt to them.

So how do we do that? For starters, we’ll alway be behind the power curve if we start out by considering what we ought to say. If our communication is going to be effective, we’ve first got to orient ourselves on the situation and focus on the desired end state.

“A habitually strategic communicator never begins with “What do we want to say?” but rather with a sequence of prior questions: What do we have? What do we want? Who matters? What do we need to make them to think, feel, know, or do? How do we make that happen?” – Helio Fred Garcia, The Power of Communication

Garcia often approaches this subject from the perspective of a business leader, but I think this idea can be applied to almost any kind of communication that’s tied to a vision. The goal is to have people share your vision, to adopt it as their own, to believe in it to the extent they can act on it. But just saying “Hey, here’s my vision. Here’s my vision. Here’s my vision.” won’t likely accomplish that. That methodology is completely oblivious to the position of the audience. If you don’t know where they are, and speak directly to that, how could you possibly imagine to move them someplace else?

It seems commonsense, looking at it like that, but I admit I’d never considered applying strategy to my communication this way before. There’s more in store from this book, and I’m going to follow-up next week with another synopsis of what I’m learning. Hopefully, you might get something worthwhile out of what I share. Maybe my tidbits here whet your appetite for some larger portions, and if so I recommend picking up Mr. Garcia’s book for yourself.

I’ll leave you with this:

“[Taking the audience seriously] requires curiosity about what matters to them, about what it takes to win them over and to keep their trust and confidence.” – Helio Fred Garcia, The Power of Communication

Put simply: if you want to communicate effectively, and in doing so lead effectively, you have to care. Today, there appears to be a widespread attitude that thinks apathy is somehow worthy of emulating. Genuine concern has fallen out of fashion for many, with folks instead choosing to just not care. It should be obvious at this point that we can’t expect apathy to make a difference. It won’t lead change. It won’t lead anything effectively.

True leadership will be marked by a genuine concern for those being led.


One Comment on “Power of Communication, Part I

  1. Pingback: Power of Communication, Part II – Pebbles in the Pond

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Variance Explained

W. Preston Neal

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