Communicating Effectively in an Uncertain World

Communicating Effectively in an Uncertain World

I’ve made a promise to myself, to communicate more optimistically – and meaningfully – in the New Year.

George Clooney said it best: “It’s been a miserable few years.”

It has indeed.

We’ve existed in an uncertain, alienating, and infuriating world – with a pandemic followed by an invasion, inflation, and seven interest rate hikes in 10 months.

Good times.

As our bureaucracy-laden health care system fails, our institutions generally appear comically unprepared to meet the challenges that undoubtedly await us.

Happy New Year!

Despite the pervasive angst, there remains one mandatory option for personal and professional fulfillment – optimism, the belief that there are better days ahead. Optimism lifts us up, and others too. Pessimism kills, and not in a good way.

As a communicator, I’ve made a promise to myself, to connect more optimistically – and meaningfully – with my colleagues, clients, and suppliers, in 2023. 10 resolutions will keep me on track. I’ll…

1. Be aware.

“People are different,” observed the transportation executive at a forum in Brampton in late November. When he spoke those words, knowing nods swept the room.

People are different. They’re often more cautious, less outgoing, and in a lot of cases, downcast. After all, if the last three years have taught us anything, it’s that anything can happen.

I’ll be respectful of the experience of others, and aware of how it’s affected their worldview.

2. Give others plenty of time and space.

I spent the majority of the pandemic losing money in real estate (don’t ask), watching TCM (Turner Classic Movies), and getting drooled on by a Golden Retriever.

In other words, I was extraordinarily fortunate.

Many others were not. They lost loved ones, or livelihoods, or both.

I resolve to let others fully share their story since March, 2020 (and before then, too, if they wish), before I dive in.

I’ll learn a great deal, and likely be inspired along the way.

3. Listen more. Pontificate less.

Listening attentively while another speaks – without looking like a five-year-old who can’t wait for their turn – is increasingly rare in our “I’m the smartest person in the room/country/galaxy” social order.

Listening quietly has astonishing power, not only in enhancing relationships, but in gaining knowledge. An enduring quote goes: “Only silence is great.”

I resolve to listen to others attentively, even in extreme cases, such as when a member of my crew opines: “This is the Leafs’ year!”

4. Never interrupt. Ever.

I once worked for a guy who’d literally lose his mind if he were interrupted.

So, guess what? My colleagues and I stopped interrupting him.

I owe him a great deal.

Today, if I inadvertently interrupt someone, I’ll immediately apologize, and invite them to complete their thought.

Hearing speakers interrupt each other (as radio and television talk show hosts appear to do with increasing frequency these days) absolutely grates on the nerves.

It’s such low-end interaction.

5. Organize and disseminate information efficiently.

Last month, I attended an Oakville Chamber of Commerce networking event where everyone at my table neatly and succinctly summarized who they were, what they did, and what value they brought to their customers.

It was impressive, and led the way to some terrific conversations, where promising contacts were established.

It was a reminder that I need to keep refining my story, so I can bring about understanding quickly and efficiently – and so the good stuff can happen earlier and longer.

As it turns out, the tough old editors I worked for back in the day, when I was starting out in the newspaper business, had it right when they (literally) yelled at me: “Gray, keep it tight and bright!”

6. Keep it short. No, shorter.

Last year, I heard a politician speak for 40 minutes.

It was at least 20 minutes too long.

(Considering that for every minute you go over your allotted speaking time, you lose 10 per cent of your credibility, it didn’t produce a good outcome.)

In my mind, just about everything is too long – articles, videos, posts, speeches, commercials – everything except authentic conversation.

Almost always, keeping it short communicates confidence, certainty, and clarity. Going too long denotes disorganization, insecurity, and ego.

I resolve in 2023 to continue keeping it short, then aiming for even shorter still.

7. Be positive.

Pessimism strides the globe, and it’s a considerable downer, so predictable and unimaginative.

I resolve to be as positive as humanly possible, without coming across as a lunatic.

I’ll look for solutions, rather than simply lament what already is. On those infrequent days when it all gets to be too much, I’ll just hit the sack early.

As my late, sainted mother used to say: “Things always look better in the morning.”

8. Follow-up.

We live in an increasingly transactional world, when most follow-up on a chance or scheduled meeting only when there’s a potential monetary advantage in doing so.

I resolve to build on interactions more selflessly in 2023 – providing introductions to respected colleagues, sending links to articles that may be of interest, or just to say that it was a pleasure to meet.

The most evolved among us follow-up with no agenda, because it’s simply the right thing to do. Ironically, the universe rewards them, often beyond all measure.

9. Aim to be memorable

I once had a client who sent me books. That’s right, my high-end client would send me – a mere consultant – books that he thought would be of interest to me.

Who does that? Almost no one.

But he did stuff like that all the time, for me and many others. As a result, he’s built a loyal, trusted network of hundreds.

I resolve in 2023 to follow the example of my former client, now my good friend, and deepen the relationships that are important to me. I resolve to be memorable.

10. Commit to continuous improvement.

The greatest gift we have in this country is to be able to express ourselves freely.

A lot of people died so we can say and write anything we want. Little else matters.

I resolve to keep improving as a communicator, to honour the gift, and all who made it possible.

Jim Gray is a Senior Communications Advisor in Oakville, Ontario.

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