Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Remember the old 'sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never... ' you get the picture.
If only it were so simple as repeating a phrase to block out the pain of what someone else has said, the fact is it's not. I remember my Mum repeating this phrase to me as a small child when I was bullied in the school-yard. I'm not sure it helped much. It certainly didn't stop the bullying but it did help me build an almost impenetrable wall around myself where feelings were harder to access - because I told myself that those things couldn't hurt me.
In reality, our words are far more powerful than we realise.
How many of us still remember that thing that a teacher said to us in the 5th grade which we internalised as truth and stopped us from pursuing a career in whatever-it-was because we were told we weren't good enough? That's the power of words.
What we now know from the quantum leaps we've taken in understanding the mind and its conscious and subconscious programming is that it is the words that we use which literally spell our world into being (pun intended).
Leaders, therefore, need to be hyper-aware of how their communication style impacts on the performance and well-being of their team, and take utmost care to create alignment between the intention of their communication and the impact it creates in others. While we can't take responsibility for how people perceive us, we can take care to demonstrate integrity between how we show up and what we say.
What would be helpful for us to realise is that the words we use have an incredibly powerful impact on us first (yes, that's you I'm talking to), and those around us second (even if we're not aware of either).
The reason is this: before any word can come out of your mouth, it must first form in your mind as a thought. The thought is yours - you own it. Many of our thoughts are subconscious, running on a program we tell ourselves thousands of times a day. Bruce Lipton and Joe Dispenza have both done some fascinating research in this area.
One way we can gain an insight into our thoughts is to notice what we say.
If you're really brave and want to become present to that incessant mind-chatter going on in the background do this:
Find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed and sit in a comfortable position
Set a timer for 20 minutes
Record into your phone or recording device all the thoughts that come into your mind.
This has the potential to do your head in as you realise how much random stuff comes up - and this is just a snapshot.
By becoming more aware of both our thoughts and what we say, we can make a choice about how we communicate in the future. The first step is always awareness.
Another technique for getting more insight into your communication is to check in with how certain statements or 'planned conversations' feel - you know what I'm talking about. It's those ones you have with yourself repeating what you're going to say to someone else when you're really fired up about something. I said feelings for a reason because you'd be surprised how many people are disconnected from their inner world of feelings.
Think about the last time you were recounting a story to someone - did you story elevate your listeners, neutralise them or bring the 'feeling' down in the room. We all know what it feels like when someone else does it, but are you aware of how the words you use, the stories you tell and the way you generally speak impacts those around you? Let that question sink in before you move on.
I believe that the old adage that 'people won't always remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel' exists to remind us to be impeccable with our words.
Technology And Its Impact On Communication
Our technology continues to evolve at rapid pace and with it, our methods for communicating have become less personal, more disconnected from direct feedback loops (such as vocal tone), and more reliant on digital devices to facilitate. We've all experienced the direct results of this as we exchange endless volumes of emails each day clarifying and re-clarifying requests instead of picking up the phone and asking the person what they meant.
As bid and proposal teams (or any teams for that matter) are becoming more remote, the value of direct, empathetic and consistent communication only increases. In an earlier article (xxx), I presented a selection of headlines that show how isolation in remote workers is increasing stress and anxiety. If isolation is the poison, then connection is the antidote and this can be difficult to achieve for leaders who have team members spread across 2 or 3 global locations and who must operate within travel constraints. So what to do?
If we've done the work on communication awareness, leaders will benefit from fostering communication strategies that drive connection over distance (obvs). Simple techniques can help to foster greater communication intimacy and these methods work for co-located and virtual teams. Try these ideas and see how they work for you:
using cameras for conference or 1:1 calls so that people can see each other and respond to the non-verbal cues that are absent when cameras are turned off. This is such a simple thing to do, but in my experience it leads to an exponential increase in mutual understanding and connection over a voice call
communicating clearly (i.e. honestly) and frequently so that all employees (particularly remote ones feel integrated into the team and not an 'add on' to the team
inviting all team members to participate in meeting facilitation and agenda setting (where appropriate) to foster inclusiveness within team processes
creating opportunities for face to face engagement or team away days. Some companies shy away from this type of investment, and yet they ignore the increased costs of staff turnover and disengagement
consider using a non-verbal code to create more interactive team meetings that shows everyone is participating, rather than passively listening, and
introducing virtual morning teas and catch ups amongst remote workers.
Communication remains the lifeblood of business interactions, whether it is verbal, email, text or meme. The best leaders adopt communication practices that inspire team members (yes it is possible to remain impeccable and inspirational during difficult conversations) and drive higher performance.
If you'd like to learn more tools and techniques to drive better performance in your bid and proposal team, don't miss my interactive breakout session at the APMP UK Conference, 8th-9th October 2019.
Tim Snell is a Coach, Facilitator and Senior Director of Bid & Capture at ICF. Tim will be facilitating an interactive breakout session at the UK Association of Proposal Management Professionals Conference on Trust, Connection & Stress Resilience in Bid Teams at London Heathrow, October 8 & 9. Full details are available here.
At the APMP UK Professional Development Day, Tim will also facilitate a breakout session on Coach to Lead for Bid Teams.