A sales rep flies across the country to seal the deal with an account he’s been pursuing for months. He’s listened carefully to the prospective buyers’ needs and put together a package he knows they’ll love. The deck is polished and ready to go. But the audience is a little fidgety, a little disengaged. The rep answers all their questions, but comes home empty handed.
A first-time manager recently introduced her team to a project that’s going to be a big win for customer satisfaction with the company’s new line of products. But the work they’re delivering isn’t what she expected to see. Now, the manager is going to have to spend several days reintroducing her team to the project, and they’re going to have to spend several days redoing the work.
A marketing director needs a budget increase to launch a new ad campaign that he estimates will increase monthly leads by 30 percent. But when he asked his CMO for the money, she said no.
So what’s holding these people back?
The Crux of Every Critical Professional Interaction is Communication
Though it’s got a reputation as a “soft” skill, communication is anything but. In fact, it’s the number-one skill recruiters are looking for, and it’s the activity that drives 80 percent of our work on any given day. But because it’s always been subjective—an art, even—it’s also one of the hardest to evaluate in any sort of objective, efficient, or scalable way. Still, the way we communicate with each other in group meetings, sales pitches, and one-on-one conversations dictates how we impact our audience.
And only by evaluating your current communication skills—understanding how you come across today and which aspects of your communication style are causing people to respond the way they are—can you really start to improve and control the outcomes of your interactions.
Though a team leader may know a conversation didn’t go well, it’s not easy to pinpoint why. After all, research has found that we’re only aware of 5 to 10 percent of the signals we’re sending at any given time. But it’s those signals we don’t notice—the pronouns, the gestures, and the subtle variations in tone—that drive reactions. If we can’t identify and control those signals, we can’t control our audiences’ reactions.
So How Can an Organization’s Leaders Become Aware of the Signals They’re Sending?
Direct feedback from peers, superiors, and even subordinates is a decent place to start. Asking how you come across may lead to some honest insights: “I didn’t think you’d given me enough information to make a decision,” or, “You didn’t sound like you cared, so I didn’t, either.” But the responses will likely be sugarcoated, and they’ll certainly be subjective, colored by someone’s bad morning, oncoming cold, or shared affinity for the topic at hand.
What’s more, even the most honest feedback is likely to be fairly general. As audience members, we can always tell when someone rubs us the wrong way, but it’s often difficult to identify exactly why. And even when we admire a speaker, sometimes we can’t say anything more than “she’s got a great presence.”
But what leaders across the organization really need is an objective view of their overall impact as a communicator and a detailed dive into the verbal and nonverbal communication traits driving that impact.
What if an organization could tap into data on how internal and external audiences perceive its leaders, and how the words they say and the way they say them are defining that perception?
The rapid evolution of natural language processing, vocal and visual analytic technology, and machine learning have opened the door to data-driven communication evaluations, which means organizations no longer have to settle for general, opinion-based feedback. Instead, their leaders can receive objective insights into the specific traits behind their success (or lack thereof).
So that sales rep learns that his struggle to truly personalize his pitch is what caused the target buyers to close their checkbooks, the manager realizes she failed to dive into the hows and whys that would have inspired her team to fully embrace the new project, and the marketing director understands that he was missing the credibility he needed to persuade his boss—and they all learn exactly what they need to do next time to get the results they want.
This data-driven feedback empowers these leaders to turn generalized reactions into granular insights that drive lasting improvements in their communication—and, as a result, their leadership skills.