by Ken Neal | 5/12/15
This my final column in a three-part series on how improving six key communication skills can help information managers succeed in their jobs and in their career. Here I turn my attention to the importance of being credible, being strategic and being persuasive.
Being Credible: Know Your Stuff
There are many ways to define credibility, or trustworthiness, but in my experience knowing your stuff and making it clear to others that you know your stuff is critical. It’s important for ensuring that you’ll be perceived as competent, and perceived competence in turn is critical to your persuasiveness.
When people listen to your proposal, as in a sales situation, they are listening to determine if your solution will meet their needs, how much it will cost, why it is better than the competition and why they won’t be making a mistake in awarding you the business. They can’t feel confident in their decision unless they are convinced that you know your stuff. Therefore the more capable you appear to them, the more influence you will have.
Perceived competence is important in all professions, but particularly so in records management and IT. The reason is that professionals in these fields not only must be competent in the basics of their discipline; their knowledge must incorporate the latest hardware and software solutions as well as industry trends and regulations spanning such areas as compliance and security standards. People need to know that you are proficient in all these and other areas in order to trust you.
Life would be easier if people believed we were competent in everything. But we’re not and sometimes we need to be persuasive in areas where you fall short in expertise. What can we do in these cases? One solution is to team competence. Imagine you’re a senior executive at a public relations firm competing for business with a technology company account. Your capabilities and track record in every public relations discipline are impeccable. There’s one problem. Your experience in the technology field is minimal. What can you do? You can bring to the presentation a member of your firm who does have solid technology expertise. You can team competence. Because your technology expert would be part of the team working on the account, now your firm has credibility, not just you. Your chances of winning the business are much greater.
Being Strategic: Know Your Purpose
Perhaps the most effective way to accomplish a mission, in business and in life, is to know your purpose, have a thorough plan to fulfill that purpose and to take effective steps in carrying out your plan. Strategic communication is similar. It’s communication backed by a purpose and a plan. Your purpose comes first, and being clear about it is critical to communicating with maximum influence and persuasion. I compare it with fixing your eye on the target, whether the target is a bull’s-eye, the finish line, a job offer or a sales contract.
I believe the most important point to understand related to this topic is that there are two broad categories of communication for human beings and understanding the difference between them is critical for achieving business success. The purpose of strategic communication is to motivate and influence someone to take action, whether to go on a date with you or accept your business proposal.
However, if you are going to influence someone, you need to take the time to understand them and tailor your message to them. This means your communication is purposeful; not just about you but as much about the other person. This form of communication offers the best chance of helping you get what you want in business. Expressive communication, the other major form of interacting with others, is different. It is not designed to motivate others. It is about expressing thoughts and feelings. It’s about ‘‘me.’’ I don’t necessarily need you to do anything. I just need you to listen. No doubt this type of contact is important, but it will not give you that ‘‘best chance’’ of motivating others in business.
Being Persuasive: Tell Stories
Persuasiveness is one of the most important business communication skills for records and IT managers because they devote so much energy and time motivating others – to accept new ideas, adopt solutions, consider proposals, increase budgets and more. One way to be persuasive is to make your presentations memorable. In my opinion, one of the best communicators in business who exemplifies every skill highlighted in my article series was Apple CEO Steve Jobs. His presentations have become the stuff of legend.
One reason for this was Jobs’ ability to tell stories. The three stories he shared at his Stanford commencement speech each had a theme. The first story, ‘‘connecting the dots,’’ was about his early life from birth through adoption and going to college. In relating the significant events of these years, Jobs makes the point that you can’t know their meaning while they’re happening. You can’t connect the dots going forward, only looking backward. Therefore, you have to trust that the dots will connect in your future, which gives you confidence to pursue your dream. The second themed story, ‘‘love and loss,’’ highlighted the years he built Apple, was forced out by the Apple board, discovered how much he still loved what he did and then eventually returned to lead Apple again years later. The final story, ‘‘live each day as if it’s your last,’’ was about his brush with death when doctors first discovered a tumor on his pancreas. The point: stories communicate powerfully because they bypass logic and directly touch the emotions. Don’t be afraid to tell stories. They can breathe life into your presentations, no matter what the topic.
There is no ultimate formula for persuasiveness and there is no endpoint to improving your skill in this area; it is a lifelong commitment. But as many experts attest, keep practicing and your dedication will pay off. My suggestion is that by continually and deliberately practicing the suggestions I’ve highlighted for all of the six key skills — be brief, be clear, be receptive, be strategic, be credible and be persuasive — you’ll always be on solid ground in your journey toward becoming an effective communicator.
Ken Neal is a certified enterprise content management practitioner (ecmp) and fellow, corporate communications for Canon Business Process Services, a leader in managed services and technology. Ken is also author of “Six Key Communications Skills for Records and Information Managers” (2014, Elsevier)