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Saying what we mean: the second level of authenticity

29 April 2015

girl-giving-flowers

By Dan Leatherdale, Partner

In our last blog on the AGL authenticity model, we ran naked in the rain to remember what it’s like to be vulnerable and self-aware. Now it’s time to put our clothes back on as we tackle the issue of incongruence.

Incongruence is the complicated word for a simple concept. It happens when something comes out wrong in our communication, and the images we invoke, as well as our tone and body language, don’t match what we’re trying to get across. Think, if you dare, of Gordon Brown’s smile. And now try to stop thinking about it.

So a central challenge in communication is managing the risk of a rupture between intention and perception. But what can we do about it?

As much art as it is science, it’s best tuned through experimentation, reflection and feedback-seeking. Just putting something into words, and saying those words out loud, can make us think twice about we really want to say. But what sort of thing should we be looking for?

The first thing to do is to make sure you truly believe what you are saying. In the heat of the moment, any internal ambivalence will play out in your micro-expressions for others to see – and it’s near impossible to get an audience to buy into something if you don’t sound like you’ve bought into it yourself. So stick to saying what you mean so you can mean what you say.

The second thing is to keep your content as short and as simple as possible. This means editing, and with gusto. You need to slash away until the last flabby sub-clause has been hoiked out, because the moment you find yourself invoking abstract concepts in rarefied language is the moment your message will get lost amidst the noise.

The third thing is to focus on what you want people to do as a result of hearing you. The biggest mistake you can make here is to seek admiration for your skills as a communicator. Football fans want strikers to score goals, not perform graceful pirouettes miles from the ball. Theatre fans want actors to get on with the action, they don’t want to admire their tremulous undertones. Focus above all on your super-objective, on what you want others to do as a result of your communication; ask yourself if each phrase gets you closer to that or not.

The fourth thing is to bring your personality into your message, front and centre. Don’t hide the messenger behind the message. You can inject personal immediacy and resonance by choosing elements of your biography that show what you stand for and where you’ve come from. You can express these elements through stories and metaphors, adding colour and texture so you convey meaning in an impactful and memorable way.

Lastly, convey your words with an emphasis, pace and tone that you also match with the right physical expression. Luckily, for most of us this doesn’t require three years at a performing arts conservatoire. Instead, it’s about changing a couple of simple things in order to open up a broader range of expression than we currently access.

So there some simple things we can do to reduce the risk of misfiring in our communication. Perhaps the most important, though, is to get into the right mindset: say what you mean, keep it simple, be authentic, let your personality shine through, and have a bias for action. Then it’s a question of learning from the doing – experimenting, reflecting, and getting feedback.

In our next and final blog on the authenticity model, we will look at really connecting with other people in our communication. After all, in the modern workplace you don’t bring people with you just by broadcasting to them in a one-way conversation – and you certainly don’t learn more about your organisation, your people and your customers.