Regardless of what field of public relations/corporate communications/ marketing/ social media you are in, your ability to communicate effectively and to use the tools of communication effectively are what make you different from other business people. Yep, we are all business people — it doesn’t matter if we’re in-house, agency, researcher, academic, not-for-profit, or what.
Sometimes we forget that, and sometimes we forget that we are communicators.
Reading the New York Times’ Corner Office feature on the second page of the business section every Sunday reveals that 99% (not a real number – just, well, a lot of them) of the leaders featured say that their own effectiveness depends on communication. They value good communicators, succinct, cogent, thoughtful, planful. But it’s often not about the “telling” part of communication.
The apogee of my career came when Dennis Long, then the head of retail banking for KeyBank of Washington, told me that my communication style was going to be career-limiting. He said, “there’s a line between confidence and arrogance, and you’re crossing it.” He told me to make fewer statements and ask more questions, to realize that I didn’t have much of a base of experience on which to demand people take heed.
This echoed my boss, Rob Gill, who told me, “You are a talented guy, but you don’t have enough experience…” Rob told me to start learning how to listen and ask good questions.
This took me aback – I’d heard from pretty much everyone how terrific I was since joining Key on the teller line, moving up quickly and eventually into the management training program. We didn’t cover asking questions, listening or really anything else but effective presenting in that program. I thought it was about positioning myself as an expert, making pithy, amusing, but still important comments based on my experience not only at Key, but also in my years elsewhere.
Communicating, to me then, was about me — not about other people. Now, I see it quite differently. It’s about our audiences, the receivers of our communication, certainly — but they also are human beings deserving of respect as sources of wisdom.
In many communication professions, we scorn our publics — they’re too stupid to understand our brilliant campaign, they’re clueless about how our business works, or merely disdainful of business in general. They’re ignoramuses who don’t understand the Very Important Work our not-for-profit does in the world!
As a part-time educator, I’ve learned the hard way to respect the students – not merely as the vessels into which I pour wisdom, but as participants in an almost sacred ritual: Communication. We don’t have it without them, without the circle, never ending or completing; always open at some end.
I’m so grateful to Dennis Long and Rob Gill.
It takes commitment to be a business person who uses communication, who is a communicator. It takes courage and a desire to do right. It’s my calling.
Is it yours?