Everything you do is part of your communication to the world.
Even when you’re walking alone, you’re communicating. Your clothes, your gait, the expression on your face… they are all being read by others… at all times. If I tell you a story about a client who found himself in a political fight because he had unintentionally walked by someone without saying hello, leaving the other person feeling snubbed, would you be surprised? Or would it remind you of a story you’ve heard a thousand times before, from coworkers, from family, from TV, from sitcom writers.
Look, you know the story, and you know how it ends, so guess what: you have the power to change it if you don’t like it. You can anticipate others’ likely reactions and proactively change your approach to get different, better, reactions.
I ran into the CEO of a client organization the other day at a restaurant. He didn’t acknowledge me. I could have been offended or worried, but why? He wasn’t acknowledging anyone. In fact, he was making quite a production of folding and refolding his newspaper. He wasn’t being rude, he was being… a CEO. Who wanted to be alone for 30 minutes.
OK, that was him. But what about me? What if he saw me, and I wasn’t coming to say hello…? Maybe he’d think I didn’t see him, maybe that I was being respectful, maybe that I was too nervous to approach him, or maybe that I was ignoring him. Who knows? But one thing was for sure: he was going to think something! I couldn’t stop that fact that one way or another, because through action or inaction, I would be communicating. And I knew all the possible endings of the story.
In that moment, my choices were: (1) go about my business, hope he would come to the right conclusion about me, and blame him for misunderstanding me if he didn’t, or (2) take my own destiny in my own hands and communicate purposefully and unambiguously.
Yes, there would be risk in interrupting him, but far less risk than of being perceived to snub him. So I said hello, kept the conversation short, and got him back to his paper within 30 seconds.
How hard does that sound?
(Actually, it’s very hard. When communication is everything, you have to be “more perfect,” as one of my other CEO coaching clients likes to say. It’s a royal pain in the butt. The learning curve to get over your own ego is steep, the frustrations when you put forth the effort and still get misunderstood are significant, and the effort required to figure out the best communication strategy for a situation—including the message, channel, frequency, direction, and presentation—and not from your perspective, but from your audience’s—is daunting. At least, at first it is. As you get the hang of this new approach to communications, you begin to find it quite liberating. But for a long while, it’s not liberating, it’s tough. Very tough.)
Communication is everything. Communication means everything.
Take ownership of your message… in all of its forms.
Jason Seiden is a career consultant for professionals and managers (http://jasonseiden.com/). He wrote the best dang career book ever (just ask him), called How to Self-Destruct: Making the Least of What’s Left of Your Career, and is a master facilitator of the cranial extraction method of on-the-job performance improvement. And yes, even though we value the intrinsic worth of his writing, we pay him per post. That makes us part of the problem..