The skill of showing initiative is simply to communicate effectively. Once, a long time ago, we were hunter-gatherers, wandering around in packs. Often, there was nobody in charge. Fights and battles broke out for dominance and in the absence of good communication, there was chaos.
In time, we did begin to communicate. We found we were able to survive longer this way. If one leader-type came up with a solution that involved hunting for food in a certain forest, the rest of the “pack” took notice.
The outcome was truly rewarding. Everyone in the pack ate. The advice was sound. Moreover, everyone was delighted by the positive initiative that was taken, prior to the hunting party spearing that gazelle or wild boar. Initiative that would be started by a simple means of communication.
A leader in communication must also steer dissenting voices from pushing everyone else off kilter. A leader can begin the meeting by clearly outlining the goal of the day to make this a productive one. But there is always a voice that will change the subject to a non-productive quality. Moaning about the coffee machine breaking down, complaining about the window being left open or begging for the workload to be reduced. A Leader in communication will be steered off-course by these issues, so they will need to make clear these issues will be addressed at another time. The meeting and the communication delivered within it, must be kept solely focused on the topic in hand. So how exactly can you make meetings like these productive, and win people over?
Before you go into a meeting you will need to do some prep work. Writing down the things you hope to say is not necessarily the best practice. Calculating what you want is far better. What you wish to achieve, the desired outcome and the end result are much more productive blurbs than scribbling down a word-for-word dialogue.
Visualising what you will look like and how you want to come across is important. Think about how you will present yourself. It is here that you can iron out any frailties or errors in your delivery. Think about body language and consider the objections that are bound to be raised during a Q and A session.
Let’s look at one example:
Topic: At the weekend, we are going on a hill climbing and team building expedition
• How am I going to get there? Is there any transport provided?
• I don’t have the correct footwear
• I am not very fit. How will I keep up?
• Should I take any special clothing or survival kit?
The topic can be anything, but whatever the subject matter, there will be objections raised and you will need to prepare an answer for the obvious points, as seen in the example above.
Work out the response to those possible objections. There is nothing worse than the phrase, “Arm, I did not think about that one”. It will lose the confidence of your audience and the desired effect will be compromised.
Preparation is vital. Thinking about the aesthetics and environment must also be performed. Is the conversation going to be held in a meeting room, an elevator, office or outside in the courtyard?
What possible problems could you encounter by holding the conversation in those environments? Will there be noise? Cold? Could someone else have booked the room beforehand? These are questions that must be deliberated before the “conversation” takes places.
Another thing you have to do before your meeting is ponder over the players in the game. The listeners. You may need to put on a different hat depending on who you talk to. Talking to your child before dinner or bedtime will be an entirely different spiel to the chat you have with the chief accountant about last term’s budget deficits.
Regardless of the subject matter of the conversation you are about to have, you should research on it. Do not feel you have to dominate the conversation and talk for 90 per cent of time. If there is an expert in the room, allow them to feed you knowledge and input only very occasionally as they deliver the information.
Don’t talk over someone when they are communicating with you. However, you cannot let them babble. If someone is drifting away from the topic at hand, steer them respectfully back on track. This must be the case, even if you are the boss and the person talking is the subordinate.
When you’re listening to someone, avoid checking your phone, picking your nails or getting distracted some other way. Focus your attention solely on the person you are in conversation with. Listen to what the other person is saying and never use terse or aggressive mannerisms to shout another down. Lavish someone with praise when they are doing something right and show respect, team spirit and give honest feedback.
Imagine a scenario where you have to provide the end of quarter accounts ledger by the end of the week. You could deliver an instruction in the meeting which goes something like, “We need to deliver the end of quarter by Friday, people”. That is a statement. It is a clear instruction and tells your audience just what needs to be done and by when.
But what if you delivered the same statement, “We need those budget reports, like, Friday?” The tone of the end of the sentence is delivered with a higher tone (and possibly a slight cock of the head) – then this becomes a question. The people at the meeting will be unsure if you saying, “We need it by Friday” or “do we need it by Friday”. Remember, statements are better than questions.
There will always be one (or two) that may have checked out, occasionally stares out the window and has their arms folded. They rarely input to the meeting and they are first out of the seat when the meeting’s over.
These disinterested types need to be engaged. Talk to them, ask them about the topic in hand and try to get them to become interested. Get them on board and ask if they have anything to add to the meeting, going forward.
Trust and respect needs to be shown to all the participants in a meeting, in particular to those seemingly starting to drift away from the focus. Act diligently to bring them on board and get out of them what you really want—and on a wider note, this brings us right to our next topic: body language.
We all display a tone in our voice, a wave of the arms, point of a finger or restless body language. At times it could show confidence, fear, engagement or shyness. Human beings can sense it so clearly, it is almost incorrect to say these signals are at a subconscious level. They are not. They are right out there like the words on a book. Easy to spot and simple to see.
If you do happen to get angry, frustrated, annoyed or upset, then your audience will notice all of the above and consider you not to be of genuine character or sound mind. Worse still, angry body language will trigger an equivalent response back from your audience.
Nobody will want to engage with a dictatorial type. Losing your temper and getting the proverbial vocal hairdryer out might work in the locker room, but it has no place in a business meeting where the aim is to engage positively with your audience.
There are so many variables to body language, there are books written about the subject. It matters in a successful conversation you are hosting - because it directs the very mood of your audience. The language of the body is as important as the words you deliver.
If we take the great playwright, William Shakespeare, and remember how we loathed to read his books at school, but warmed to watching actors play the roles of Shakespeare’s main characters on stage.
We were reading and hearing exactly the same words, but in a Shakespeare play, the actors deliver each line with a proud and pumped chest. Their arms opened wide, the hand on heart, head held firmly high and voice booming in quintessential English baritone. These actors are specifically trained in Shakespearian mannerisms: part-wordsmith and part body language acting.
When Shakespeare directed his plays at the Globe Theatre centuries ago, he didn’t want the actors to talk the talk, but to walk the walk and embody the emotion of his stories to an eager and willing audience.
The main rules of body language is to not lean away, unfold those arms, maintain eye contact, smile and be natural. As well as watching your own language in the body, you must look at the physical actions of your audience too.
Last but not least, if you want your audience to engage their emotions, you need to tell a story. This engages emotions, gets the audience on your side and allows attentions spans to widen considerably. Short motivational stories are best.
Let’s say that there’s someone who doesn’t want to work on the top floor of an office block, as his fear of heights was overwhelming him. With eerybody passing their similar stories around, the team leader could tell how as a nine-year old boy, he was deathly afraid of spiders:
I was so afraid of them, I had to run out the house whenever one was spotted in my room. I wouldn’t sleep in that bedroom for weeks. Then one day I crawled into a tent in the back yard, which my father had put up for us kids to play in during the summer holidays.
My little sister had zipped up the tent and effectively locked me in. But then, to my horror, I noticed a big spider on the inside of the inner fly sheet. I panicked and screamed and lashed out, which made matters worse, as the spider fell onto my chest. I froze in morbid fear. But the spider harmlessly crawled off and out of the tent, through the tiny hole left at the bottom of the zip, where my little sister hadn’t quite closed the zip. After that, my fear of spiders never really had much impact on life. Now, I even keep my own pet tarantula!
You know what that does? It helps the team leader connect with his audience, and reassures the person with the fear of heights that, hey, maybe it’s not such a bad situation after all.
To wrap things up, there’s an acronym you can use to weave these tips into your everyday communication:
When you’re trying to get your message across, be clear, concise, and do your best to connect whether that’s through active listening or telling a story.
If you need more help with communication or with any other part of building your own personal brand, take a look at the rest of our posts on the Visionary Planner blog on topics like creating a Mission statement and setting out your own unique Brand Designs. You’ll be glad you did, because only you can make your vision a reality.
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