In the vernacular of the day, I feel you, Elvis. Indeed, there is nothing funny about “peace, love and understanding.” Peace is a “state” that enlightened people seek—not success, or wealth, or even happiness. We have to have love to be whole. And real understanding is the key to the first two. Empathy (understanding on steroids) de-escalates antipathy, plain and simple. And brother, we could use a little less antipathy in the world right now.
When I’m helping leaders craft messages that move others, I often get accused of teaching people to manipulate with words. I always say, “Influence with empathy is manipulation without the side effects.” One understanding of the word “manipulate” is simply to “make something work,” to articulate it in a mechanical sense. When I unfold my glasses and put them on my face, I’m manipulating them. It doesn’t hurt the glasses; it just puts them to work. Then, I can see you better. By this definition, we manipulate (influence with empathy) each other all the time.
We give people reasons to love us. We make choices (conscious or unconscious) that make us as attractive as possible. And, if we have any insight at all, we make choices that are based on the needs of the “other” person. When I say, “You look great! Have you been working out?” you had better be someone who cares about your appearance and values exercise or else it won’t open a door between us. But, when we simply barrage each other with “messages” based on fear and polarizing rhetoric, then we manipulate without empathy. And, that leads to antipathy—not influence—and certainly not connection.
We see a lot of that type of messaging these days. In fact, it is the stock and trade of political consultants in what has become the most starkly divided political landscape since the days of Lincoln. Messages based on fear and anger have created an environment ripe for another civil war. Literally. In my life time, I have seen the rhetoric between the two parties move from philosophical disagreement and patronizing “tongue-clucking” to violent threats and vicious slurs. The “message” has become “the issue,” and that is a dangerous thing.
During the run-up to the health care vote, most Americans had no idea what constituted the bill. We had no idea what we were fighting about. But we fought. We knew whether we were for it or against it even though we didn’t know what the bill said. We were either with the Hatfield’s or McCoy’s, Carolina or Duke, the Yankees or the Dodgers, even though we had no idea why we hated each other. And, we have begun to hate each other—it’s just that we don’t know why. If we hate each other badly enough, long enough, it won’t matter why, and somebody is going to end up getting hurt.
It is up to us. We can demand to understand what we are fighting about. We can demand that the same people who are manufacturing vitriol spend time and space exploring issues, not just shouting “messages.” We can demand that complex ideas be explained simply and evenly. We can demand that our elected leaders play fair. We can demand that they get along, and “de-escalate the antipathy” that exists in Washington. We can demand that they get to know one another and that they work together. We can demand a little peace, love, and understanding.
There is no higher calling than to become fully you. There is no greater source of differentiation, power, and peace than comfort with our own individuality. Communicating from that place is the greatest gift we can give each other and ourselves. We communicate to connect. But, what happens if the communicator isn’t connected to himself and his ideas? Well, we don’t connect with data, and actors play characters, but characters aren’t the real thing.
Humans develop in relationship to each other. The more connected we are to ourselves, the more available we can be to others. The more vulnerable we allow ourselves to be, the more powerful we become because we are getting closer to bringing all of ourselves to the relationship. But only when we choose to connect.
The world of managed organizations is an extraordinary platform for developing ourselves and those around us. Leaders have a tremendous opportunity to choose to develop themselves as they develop those around them. Not only is there no conflict of interest between individual and organizational development, the thorough alignment of the growth of the organization and growth of the individual as well as the growth of the “other” (e.g., client, consumer) is the true genius of the free market. Imagine developing products and services based solely on a genuine proposition of “value-added.” What if all sales efforts were similarly and “authentically” focused? What if every business communication started with the question, “What’s in it for the other person?”
Of course, as leaders, we have to connect on purpose. It’s not enough to connect in a vacuum. Business leaders are paid to move businesses forward. That’s the “purpose” of the business and the role of the leader. But if we are going to move the business forward, we need other people to take action. If that’s going to happen, we need to communicate with “radical empathy.” This means that we have to simultaneously “contain” (i.e., acknowledge, understand, manage) our own needs as developing beings, the goals of the organization, and the needs of the people whose efforts determine our success: employees, vendors, etc., and, of course, our customers.
So, every time you talk as a leader, there is an opportunity—a mandate—to stay connected to your own needs and your humanity, to work to meet the needs (objectives, goals, etc.) of the organization, and to meet the needs of the people you talk to. What you say and how you say it falls out of the intersection of all those needs and objectives.
Why all of these connections? Because in the world of managed organizations, to fail to communicate in a way that demonstrates “radical empathy” leaves value (growth, success, development, brand, and money!) on the table. You don’t want value on the table. You want it in your organization.
We are unhappy when we are disconnected, and we go crazy when we can’t connect.
The things we care about most are the things that make us feel the most connected: family, love, business, politics, music, sports, social networking….
On the other hand, one of the few facts I remember from my graduate studies in clinical psychology is that if you want to ruin a human being, leave it unattended (disconnected) as a baby. Abuse is better than inattention to a developing human. That’s one reason so many people stay in abusive relationships—because the pull of connection is stronger than the rational fear for one’s life.
So, what does all of this have to do with getting “results every time you talk” in business? Well, we’ve all been told a thousand times that businesses run on relationships. What does that mean? It means that our ability to connect may be the most critical skill required to be an effective leader. Think about it. If you could do everything yourself, you probably already would have. But, as soon as there is a division of labor, then other people have to do things for the business to grow. How do you get other people to do things? Well, whether you do it with empathy (good!) or coercion (bad!), you have to connect with them.
I’m blogging because I need to be more connected to the people I work with and the people I would like to work with. So, I look forward to hearing from you. And, of course, if you like what you see, tell your friends!
Ever notice how the most powerful person in a meeting often seems the most comfortable with silence? Well, I’ve got news for you: comfort with silence is as much a contributor to that power as it is a reflection of it. I am more and more convinced that “change” comes in moments of peace, during pauses—when we get to integrate ideas, concepts, practices, etc.—and not in the heat of the moment when ideas are being firehosed at us.
I took a long pause this summer…three weeks away from helping clients with messaging, strategy, physical presence, and the like, to focus on why I do all of this. While my pause wasn’t always quiet (my band played a very loud gig on the 4th of July at Stinson Beach, CA, and at one point we had 18 family members for dinner at our house in Maine!), it was an important “caesura” from the pressures of helping business people connect “on purpose.” It was important because without time to connect with my family, my sons, my wife, and with myself, it would be hypocritical to challenge others to connect. And, I believe connection is why we are here.
Silences, pauses, time for reflection—these are doorways to connection with others and ourselves. Meaning, learning, relationships. Value happens in the gaps more than in the words and the activities. But, just like I had to choose to take three weeks off, we have to choose to create silences, or gaps, for the people with whom we work to connect.
So, what does all of this have to do with connecting “on purpose”? You have choices to make when you interact with people. How you use your body and voice and the ideas you share are all choices you can make that will have a profound impact on your ability to both connect and to achieve your “purpose” (get it? connecting on purpose…). One of the most powerful choices of all is the “purposeful” use of silence.
Pausing gives you time to collect your thoughts. When you pause regularly, your ideas seem better organized and more succinct. This is especially important for tough “Q&A” situations. It also gives others time to digest your ideas. Yes, we can hear more quickly than we can talk, but hearing, understanding, and impact are different phenomena. Silence creates impact. In fact, a bit of silence before any idea makes it seem more important because it sounds as if you have given the idea some thought. That’s one reason why a quickly-read speech will never have the impact of someone really talking with passion.
There are also physiological reasons for pausing. Every time you pause, you give your body the chance to exhale and release tension, so you feel more relaxed. When you inhale again, it fuels you with a well-projected voice. The faster you go, the less you breathe. The less you breathe, the faster you go…and the harder it is for your audience to track you. A communicator who is comfortable with silence looks and sounds confident and in control. It’s as if the willingness to pause, breathe, and think says to others, “I’m OK. I’m not in a hurry, and what I’m saying is so important that I want you to think about it.”
Try it. Next time you have important ideas to share—at work, at home, on the golf course—bracket those ideas with silence. Share a thought…and pause. The people you are sharing with will get to digest and integrate each idea, and you and your ideas will begin to connect with them. In the meantime, as your ideas begin to take on more importance, you’ll be breathing and relaxing more, which magically eliminates use of “verbal fillers” (umm, ahh, like, so, etc.). You’ll seem better-organized, more confident, and more in control.
Let me know how it works.