Occasionally, I get to work with an executive coaching client who’s exceptional at communicating with their colleagues. When I talk with the client’s colleagues about what makes them exceptional, one of the big differentiators is that the executive shares with them what they need to know before they need to know it. As a result, the colleagues feel valued by and appreciative of my client. And, for the organization, the ahead of the curve communications make big change initiatives easier to manage and go more smoothly.
What my clients who generate that kind of good will and more effective collaboration are doing is so simple that I’m surprised way more people don’t do it. They get ahead of the communications curve by practicing empathy. And by empathy, I don’t mean that they’re tuning into how their colleagues feel (although that’s important). Rather, they’re asking themselves the question, “If I was in that person’s role, what would I want or need to know and when would I want to know it?” Then they act on their answer to the question.
I’ve never met an executive who likes surprises – either good ones or bad ones. By putting themselves in their colleagues’ shoes and then shaping their communications around those insights, my ahead of the communications curve clients set themselves apart as people who reduce the collective stress level by eliminating surprises and setting others up for success.
I wrote about this dynamic a bit in my book, The Next Level, in the chapter on picking up custom-fit communications and letting go of one size fits all communications. What I’ve said for years about custom-fit communications is that it’s outcome oriented and audience specific. If you can share what particular audiences need to know about plans and outcomes before they need to know it and give them plenty of time to think things through before they respond, even better.
Here are three ways that the best-in-class executive communicators I work with do that:
They Observe, Listen and Learn: Executives who stay ahead of the communications curve, spend a lot of time observing, listening and learning. They pay attention to what their colleagues say and do that indicates what’s important to them. They periodically conduct “listening tour” conversations where they ask key colleagues important but not urgent questions like, “What’s going to make this year successful for you and your team and how can my team and I help?” Being intentional in continuously seeking out knowledge and insight into what’s important to their colleagues, sets the ahead of the curve communicators to actually be ahead of the curve.
They Transpose: The pioneering leadership coach, Tim Gallwey developed a technique called transposing that most ahead of the curve executives use a version of when they’re planning their communications. When you transpose, you go deep on empathy by putting yourself in the shoes of the other person and taking their perspective. From their perspective, you ask yourself three questions:
- What do I think?
- How do I feel?
- What do I want?
Note that you’re not asking what “they” want; you’re asking what “I” want as if you were them. When you more fully understand what your colleagues want and need, you’re much better positioned to get ahead of the communications curve.
They Focus on the “So What?”: And, finally, my ahead of the curve clients focus on the “So what?” for their colleagues. Once they get a handle on what the colleague wants, they usually have better insight on what really matters to their colleagues and what doesn’t. By getting clear on their colleague’s “So what?”, they keep the communications focused, relevant and time efficient. In an era when everyone has too much to do and keep track of, nailing the “So what?” in your communications is a big step in being viewed as an MVP in your organization.
All of us are either on the sending or receiving end of communications countless times in a day or a week. From either perspective, what works for you when it comes to staying ahead of the communications curve? Let’s continue the conversation by sharing some other best practices. If you’re reading this through LinkedIn, please leave a comment there or, if you’re reading this directly on the Eblin Group blog, please send me an email with your ideas.
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