If your listener trusts you, your impact is multiplied. To be a powerful communicator you need to know how to earn trust.
There are eight keys:
1. Tribal solidarity: Are you part of the listeners’ community, or are you a stranger? If you speak the language of their group, you have the advantage. If your listeners are strangers, take time to identify shared values and experiences.
2. Consistency with your earlier story: Listeners have memories. If what you say today doesn’t square with what you said yesterday, you have a credibility problem.
3. Consistency with other witnesses: If your story doesn’t mesh with what the listener has already heard (or will soon hear) from others, don’t ignore this, and don’t dance around. Explain the difference and respectfully show why your story is preferable.
4. Consistency with other evidence: You need to understand what the listener has already experienced and learned about the subject matter, and you need to treat his body of knowledge and experience with respect. If you plan to build on that, understand how you will make your new value proposition. If you are going to contradict what the listener has already accepted as gospel, you had better have a good plan. If you dodge the issue, the listener will assume the worst.
5. Willingness to speak against self-interest: Nothing earns credibility like being honest about information which harms your own position. Obviously you’ll do this intelligently and as part of the bigger picture, and you’ll show how your proposition is the better one. But you won’t pretend that there’s not another proposition. Stay in control of the conversation-- it’s possible to be strong, confident and candid all at the same time.
6. Body language: Do you trust people who won’t look you in the eye, who babble like fools, or who slump and mumble? Of course you don’t. So, don’t be that guy! Stand up, speak up, look ‘em in the eye-- if you want to be believed, look believable.
7. The company you keep: If your listeners don’t like your friends, they probably won’t like you or your message, either. If you know that there is distrust between your audience and your own community, deal with it right up front, and do this with the utmost respect. Speak from your heart to their heart. If you show respect and courage, you will earn the right to be heard.
8. The novelty of the proposition: Perhaps your proposition is “old hat” to you, but if it is brand new to your listeners, expect scepticism. Don’t hate their scepticism but understand it, respect it, and earn your way around it.
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When they were quite young my kids believed in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Great Croaking Lizard of Death (who lived under the bridge near the ice cream store). I funded the Tooth Fairy to ensure credibility, and the cost of maintaining Santa Claus nearly got out of hand.
I’m willing to bet that if you are a parent, you’ve lied to your kids about all these, except maybe for the Lizard.
I’m also willing to bet that you’ve lied in answer to the questions “Do you think this makes me look fat?”, “Isn’t that the most adorable baby?” and “Do you have any spare cash?”
We all lie. Believe me, it’s the truth. Lies are part of our tool-kit.
But are lies always OK? Never OK? Are there rules of engagement when lying?
When Mark Twain said “A lie is an abomination unto the LORD, but a very present help in time of trouble”, he put his finger on the issue: lies are intrinsically immoral, but they are useful.
Let me suggest a test for whether or not fibbing crosses the line: if it is calculated to provoke a response which is beneficial to you and detrimental to the other person, then the lie is a black one and not a white one.
That said, even if this test is accepted, there are caveats. The first is that society and regulators have put such a premium on truthfulness in certain situations that penalties are attached to untruthfulness whether or not damage arises. Lawyers, engineers, architects, doctors and most other professions are absolutely rigid in their standards of truthfulness (lawyer jokes notwithstanding) because public welfare depends on it. If an engineer says that a bridge is safe, the world relies on her professional integrity. As a lawyer I am obliged to disclose cases which are against my position as well as favourable ones. Justice relies on fairness.
Another caveat is that we become what we do. Lies are like alcohol or junk food-- a little is of no great harm, but you can quickly find yourself too comfortable and too reliant. One of the disciplines of a good life is the discipline of truthfulness. Like choosing the stairs instead of the elevator, you know that you will be a better person for accepting the consequence of telling the truth rather than slinking away with a lie.
Thirdly, all of our important personal and professional relationships rely on reliance. Our spouses, our business partners, our clients and our employees expect that what we say can be trusted. If that fails, relationships fail.
But what about the "Elephant in the Room", Donald Trump?. “The Donald” lied outrageously during his campaign and continues to lie shamelessly. He doesn’t even try to be consistent-- he lies about his lies. And yet he got to be the President of the United States of America. Doesn’t that prove that lying works?
No. It doesn’t, and it won’t. It will end badly for him, and perhaps for all of us. The laws of nature always prevail.
Watch for an upcoming comprehensive discussion about how key elements of society set themselves up to make Donald Trump inevitable by normalizing their respective self-serving untruths. Believe me!
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Art credit: Surachai, 123RF
Crocodiles can’t solve puzzles. Poetry and calculus serve them no useful purpose. What a crocodile needs is instantaneous physiological response and for that a croc’s brain is marvelous. It does exactly what it needs to do: manage eating, sleeping, procreating and surviving. But beyond keeping the beast safe and satisfied, a crocodile brain has no other role.
Lovely, you say, but what does this have to do with communication theory? Plenty. You see, in addition to our “thinking” brains, each of us possesses a fully functioning crocodile brain. Not only that, but the crocodile brain is a zillion times faster than the “thinking” brain, meaning that it is giving your body orders long before your cerebral processes are even aware there's a situation.
Let’s look at an example: a sudden encounter with a bear.
If your intellect is in charge, it will say something like, “Ah, yes, ursus americanus, a medium-sized bear native to North America! Not to worry, less than one human per year is killed by black bears.” But long before your intellectual brain gets philosophical, your reptilian brain has made sure that you are not the “one human per year”. Well before your cerebral cortex began to get in gear, your reptile brain ordered a release of adrenaline, jacked up your heart-rate, pumped up your oxygenation, cut off all distractions, and made you ready for fight or flight. Forget the ursus americanus intellectual stuff, we’re getting you out of here alive!
For survival purposes, of course, this is all good. The problem is that the reptilian brain never quits. Guess what produces road rage? Or why (depending on your preferences) physiological responses are triggered by just a glimpse of a busty cleavage or some tanned and oiled muscles? Just a whiff of french fries will crush your willpower long before your intellect reminds you that you don’t need any more hydrogenated starch. And when you've finished watching a horror movie, you realize you’re physically exhausted. The list is endless, but the point is that your crocodile brain never stops.
And while it can keep you out of trouble, it just as easily gets you into trouble.
As you may imagine, the crocodile brain doesn’t like new things, and it’s definitely not politically correct. If you’re not from around here, my inner crocodile doesn’t like you. For crocodiles, that “better safe than sorry” reflex has kept millions of them alive. For humans, the crocodile brain often the does the opposite-- the Holocaust, for example, was pure crocodile.
Unscrupulous communicators play the crocodile brain to great advantage. Imagine the power of a campaign where the politician speaks to deep-seated fears and anxieties of his audience, demonizing all the others as Crooked Hillary, Lying Ted, Little Marco, and so on. Get them chanting, "Lock her up!"
Never underestimate the power of the appeal to the crocodile brain.
Simply becoming aware of the power of the reptile brain can be personally transformative. Even more transformative is learning to rein in your own crocodile and giving your higher brain more say in the decision-making process. And when you begin to consider that your listener is constantly under the influence of his reptilian brain, you will become far more effective as a communicator.
Never forget the crocodile within yourself, and never forget the crocodile within your listener.
Cartoon credit: Ryan James, Senior Project Manager, Novatech Engineers, Ottawa
Cute little guys! What fun this will be! After all, cartoon hippos are goofy, clumsy, silly and cute. Cartoon raccoons are such dear little bandits who just want to be cuddled.
In real life? Not so much.
In Africa, the hippopotamus kills about five hundred humans per year. Lions get about a hundred, sharks do ten, and only the crocodile, at a thousand, is a greater menace. And while lions, sharks and crocodiles will kill you to eat you, the hippo will kill you just because he’s grumpy.
And that cuddly little raccoon? Well, he’s not likely to kill you on the spot, but he can give you some pretty nasty diseases and, if cornered, will shred your face and walk away like nothing happened.
So, if these two dudes walk into your bar, you should slip out the back door. Somebody is going to get hurt. Underestimate these guys at your peril.
As communicators, we sometimes presume a cute hippo or a cuddly raccoon, and of course we get hurt. One of the most dangerous things you can do is to mis-read your audience. This is true in all four spheres of communication: societal, enterprise, professional and personal.
Why is failing to know your audience the most fundamental failure of effective communication? Well, let’s recall the Six Essentials of Effective Communication:
1. Understand your listener both emotionally and intellectually.
2. Clearly identify “Point A”: where your listener is at the beginning of your communication.
3. Clearly identify “Point B”: exactly where you want to take your listener.
4. Carefully map the logical and emotional route from Point A to Point B.
5. Plan out your techniques to get your listener from Point A to Point B.
6. Take your listener by the hand and walk him surely and safely from Point A to Point B.
Do you get the point? Unless you know your audience, you can’t even begin to communicate. Underestimating or under-appreciating your listener will get you the disaster you deserve. Any time you walk into a communication experience without understanding your listener, you’re looking for trouble.
Cases in point?
Communicators, know your audience!
Norman Bowley is a communicator by passion, a lawyer and educator by profession. Thirty-six years of legal practice after ten years as an educator have equipped Norm to teach professionals how to communicate effectively and with power.