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The Power Of Clear Communication
The skill that makes or breaks a leader. Learn how to communicate with clarity and purpose.
Humans are successful when they can effectively express their ideas and opinions with minimal difficulty. Good communication is the foundation of strong relationships. If communication fails, the consequences can be irreversible.
Leaders, Managers or Individual Contributors, all need to hone this skill with an emphasis on constant improvement. This is the one skill that can trump other skills.
A Short Story
My father was very good at sharing wisdom via stories. I remember him narrating a short story from Ramayana which has stayed with me all along. My friends from India might already know about Ramayana. For my other friends, Ramayana is one of the two great epic Sanskrit poems from India. The other one being Mahabharata. Ramayana is a story about Lord Rama and his wife Sita.
In this story, Sita is abducted by a demon king, Ravana. Rama is in search of her and as part of his search he comes across Hanuman, a mighty monkey commander of the monkey army. Hanuman is referred to as the son of wind (Vayu) and is considered the mightiest of all. Hanuman was also one of the most loyal devotees of Rama.
Rama requests Hanuman for his help in finding Sita. For Hanuman, Rama’s word was his command. He set out to search for Sita. However, it was not an easy undertaking and he encountered several roadblocks on his way to Ravana’s Kingdom of Lanka, the kingdom of demons. I simplify the events below for brevity.
Hanuman had to cross the ocean to reach Lanka. Hanuman, who was gifted with magical superpowers grew in size and leapt across the ocean to reach Lanka.
Lanka was guarded by mighty and powerful demons. He fought them all bravely and breached Ravana’s palace.
Using his super powers he was able to make himself as tiny as a mouse and search around the palace without being noticed.
He was relentless. After a long search, he eventually finds Sita sitting under a tree (Ashoka grove). He climbs up the tree and requests Sita to come along with him.
Sita was able to trust Hanuman as he presented her with Rama’s ring to prove his loyalty to Rama.
Sita refuses to go along and tells Hanuman that she wants Rama to come over and defeat Ravana and break his pride.
The demons notice Hanuman in the tree and he is caught and shackled down with chains. He is then taken to Ravana.
Ravana, angry with the breach, orders the demons to set Hanuman’s tail on fire. Hanuman used his superhuman abilities to break free from the shackles. He then set Lanka ablaze with his flaming tail.
After escaping from Lanka, Hanuman eventually makes it back to Rama.
Hanuman endured much hardship in his search for Sita's whereabouts. He was overwhelmed. He was eager to share all the challenges he faced. Upon meeting Rama, however, his very first words were:
“I saw Sita.”
Hanuman could have narrated all the events that occurred right from the time he set out for the search, but he knew very well that the most important information for Rama is to know whether Hanuman saw Sita or not. He could have talked all about his bravery, how he defeated the demons and set fire to the whole of Lanka.
Hanuman knows that sharing the most important information first is what is going to put Rama at ease. And he did just that - “I saw Sita”. Rama breathed a sigh of relief.
Hanuman shows us that he was an effective communicator. Just like Hanuman, remember to always understand the importance of your words and avoid the fluff.
Optimize for the listener.
This story has remained with me and has shaped my communication for the better.
Key points to consider for becoming an effective communicator:
Be articulate - Express your ideas and thoughts clearly and coherently. Try to avoid the fluff in your sentences and use simple words as far as possible. The key in communication is to get your thoughts to the other person with minimal friction.
Don’t assume - Don’t assume any facts. Give enough context along and check to see if the other party is following what you are saying. Allow for questions or interruptions.
Don’t deviate - Finish your thought first before deviating to another topic. You can leave the other party in a confused state.
Don’t be in a rush to respond - Unfortunately, many people don't take the time to listen before responding. They simply wait for their turn to speak, without truly engaging with the conversation. Listen with intent and respond appropriately.
Value time - The person/people listening to you have given their time to you. Respect it. Don’t take them for granted just because they are patient. Be concise.
Interrupt gracefully - You will often come across people who don’t stop to give you a chance to respond. In such cases, it is even ok to raise your hand requesting for a chance to speak 🙂. A few times you do this, they may get the message and wait for you to respond going forward.
Be open - It is ok to say, I don’t know and I will get back to you.
Most of the above mentioned key points should be considered in both, written as well as verbal communication. However, there is another important mode of communication - nonverbal.
Nonverbal Communication - a Leaders Superpower
Attention to nonverbal communication is what sets leaders apart from great leaders. Following are some of the key points to consider:
It is important to note that people are intentionally or unintentionally always reading you.
Nonverbal communication is something core to you and is also something that you can’t hide easily.
It is how you carry and conduct yourself. It comprises all of your gestures and behaviors.
It is this form of communication that helps you build an influence over others.
As this comes from within, it is important to be good within.
Leaders with great nonverbal communication are great listeners, are mindful and always take a genuine effort to understand others.
They are careful of their tone and are always wanting to improve from within to be the best version of themselves outside.
Nonverbal communication presents another dimension of you to others.
Communication in all forms can be learned. Start small. Take one step at a time and be consistent.
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