Forbes recently came out with a piece on “8 Ways to Undermine Yourself as a Leader.” Though worthwhile, the list failed to mention one key nail in the coffin for destructive leadership – and that’s failed communication skills.
Look at history’s most pivotal leaders. Whether they were loved or hated, they all still excelled in the art of rhetoric. Look to recent examples like Clinton and Reagan as examples. Refer to more intimate portraits of leaders like last year’s release Lincoln that perfectly depicted the subtle role of leadership – one that perfectly touches on all the points I’m about to share here. Perhaps you can even think of your own encounters of teachers, friends, or co-workers you felt had leadership material. I guarantee you the one thing they hand in common was charismatic communication.
Robert Greene’s iconic 48 Rules of Power has several rules entrenched in communication. Not to confuse power as separate from leadership, consider that real power implies taking on a leadership role and no leader can stay atop let alone get there without understanding people. Consider these pivotal rules:
Law 6: Court Attention at all Cost
Everything is judged by its appearance; what is unseen counts for nothing. Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion. Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost. Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious, than the bland and timid masses.
Application: How you look isn’t defined by what you wear – that’s just a small aspect of it. Anyone that commands respect usually carries themselves upright and with confidence. But imagine if once they opened their mouth, they spoke in a way that stripped away any confidence you might have in them. Here the law of appearance applies equally to how you communicate with others. You are already being judged by how you converse. Law 34 reinforces this idea with “Be Royal in Your Own Fashion: Act like a King to be treated like one,” adding that “the way you carry yourself will often determine how you are treated; In the long run, appearing vulgar or common will make people disrespect you.”
Law 43: Work on the Hearts and Minds of Others
Coercion creates a reaction that will eventually work against you. You must seduce others into wanting to move in your direction. A person you have seduced becomes your loyal pawn. And the way to seduce others is to operate on their individual psychologies and weaknesses. Soften up the resistant by working on their emotions, playing on what they hold dear and what they fear. Ignore the hearts and minds of others and they will grow to hate you.
Application: The worst type of conversationalist is the one that doesn’t respond to what you’ve said. The worst type of communicator is the one that doesn’t listen to what you’re saying. Are you noticing a fatal pattern? No matter how good-looking, smart, or rich you are, if you can’t listen to people and understand them, they’ll never let you lead them. In a simple conversation setting, the fatal flaw that I see too often across industries and intelligence levels is the individual who either (1) listens but responds with something completely different that doesn’t address what was just said, or (2) doesn’t respond at all or enough, giving the arrogant impression of disinterest. If you suffer from being completely obtuse to the individual across from you, try with a little exercise that touches on Law 44, the Mirror Effect. While Green uses it for deceptive purposes, the Mirror Effect is actually a very basic communication strategy designed to creative affinity. Here all you do is mirror the other person’s body language – a move that subconsciously ingratiates you to them despite your otherwise obtuse conversation skills.
You can also look to Inc. Magazine’s recent feature on “3 Steps for Becoming a Better Conversationalist,” which while missing the meat and potatoes of this piece, offers a nutshell view that touches on the same points of listening, advocating, and paraphrasing.
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