Communication Equals Credibility Equals Leadership
by Debra Black
The academic study of communication is largely geared toward discovering how communication impacts a person’s credibility, according to Allen Weiner, Ph.D. Communication studies are, essentially, credibility studies.
Weiner, the managing director of Communication Development Associates, Inc., shed light on the subject of communication, credibility, and the perception of leadership qualities in a meeting of the Retail Consortium for Management Education (RCME) on March 25.
Credibility and leadership are likewise fundamentally the same thing, says Weiner. Then, the question becomes, what is the impact of communication on leadership?
“Five qualities – competence, composure, character, likeability, high energy – have been used by Gallup and firms like ours for 30 years to ask focus groups how all of us come across,” he says. “I get evaluated that way, and you get evaluated that way.” Weiner went on to say that, most annual performance appraisals can be summed up in these basic categories.
The impression you make
Leadership qualities are granted to us after people see how we communicate, says the author of So Smart But…How Intelligent People Lose Credibility — And How They Can Get it Back.
The impression you make on others amounts to “45 percent how you sound, 45 percent how you look, and 10 percent what you say,” Weiner says. He urged participants to be better observers and pay attention to what communication skills can do for them.
How you sound
TALK LOUDER to get leadership attention. Sounding like a high-energy individual is based on volume. “Speak up more, and speak up louder. Talk to us as if we were hard of hearing, as if you were doing us a favor…it’s very rare when I’m asked to coach someone to talk more softly,” says Weiner.
SLOWING DOWN A MESSAGE makes the message sound important and wise. Fast talking gives an impression of high energy, but trivializes the message.
ONE-SYLLABLE ENGLISH is always more aggressive. Speaking with two- or three-syllable words is less aggressive. “If you look at TV scripts or novels, the characters whom the writer wants to be aggressive always speak in one-syllable English,” says Weiner. Sounding more assertive requires short sentences and also a pause between those sentences.
How you look
NODDING YOUR HEAD at the end of your own sentences comes across as looking high-energy.
LOOK UP AT THE END OF YOUR SENTENCES to come across as if you know what you’re talking about (even if you’re not totally sure). “When people are talking, it’s natural and normal to look away during some of that message. But if you look up and have eye contact on the last word or two of any message, it comes across as more confident.”
Stand up Story Line
“The issue of being fearful of stand-up speaking is a really interesting one. First of all, you have to say to yourself (and this is the hardest part): ‘I love what I’m talking about and by gosh, they need to hear it.’ You cannot say to yourself, ‘They’ll be bored to death. They’ve heard it before.’”
Weiner gave participants a good generic opening for most of the speeches they will have to give. Just as most children’s stories start with “Once upon a time,” the first minute of stand-up speaking is thought to require a story. Adult stories start with “Good morning. About a month ago…” or “About a year ago….” The telling of a story is a big stress reducer for the speaker, and helps them get over that initial nervousness.
He led participants through interactive exercises that demonstrated the framework he calls Breadth, Depth, Height and Sight: “All of you should be described behind your back as having great breadth around what you do, a depth of understanding, height (which refers to the ability to see the bigger picture), and sight (which refers to seeing in the future.)” He showed them where to place their hands, how to hold their papers, how to speak, and where to look to produce a more credible delivery while speaking in front of a group.
“It’s not so much that I encourage people to be prepared, but I want you to sound prepared, and I want you to look prepared. Looking prepared is mostly eye contact at the end of the sentence. And sounding prepared requires an opinion (a main point), a couple of reasons why you have it (sub-points), and a data point (with numbers) to support at least one of those reasons.”
Weiner says that whenever his company videotapes an audience, he looks for the part of the message where audience members nod. Most of the nodding is done when the audience hears the data point. “The ‘six percent’ gets the most nods,” he says.
Don’t aspire that someday all of this will come naturally, says Weiner. “It’s a chore to be better at communicating. It takes work. You have to be conscious of what’s happening at the end of a sentence.”
And back to that performance appraisal: “Your boss thinks you should be just like her, or how she aspires to be. Similarity of styles is a better predictor of great performance reviews than diversity of styles. Most of the time, the boss still wants someone they can click with.
“Remember: it’s a main point, a couple of sub-points, and a couple of data points.”