I am sure that you have met someone for the first time, and while they were pleasant there was something about them that didn’t ring true. We may not be absolutely sure why it is that we don’t trust them, but …

In our public speaking workshops we highlight the credibility problem that arises when your body language does not match your words. Our audience picks up on the fact that we may be talking the talk, but we are not walking the matching walk! They believe the body language because that shows our emotional commitment to the message we are delivering, and if it is not in sync our listeners connect with the emotional input and disbelieve the verbal message. Our actions must match our words.

It is important in public speaking, but it is even more important as a leadership skill. Leaders who say one thing, but actually do something entirely different send mixed messages to their staff. The staff will watch what the leader does and pick up their message from that rather than any verbal or written communication that they receive.

This is important for the company, especially if the leaders are trying to change the core values or any other part of the way in which it does business. I have spoken of the need for companies to evaluate the way in which they conduct their business to ensure that they have the best possibility of surviving these difficult times. If change is decided on, it will be the leader’s commitment to the change that will ensure that it will be carried out properly.

This is where mixed messages can be devastating. A leader who has announced that the company needs to improve customer relations, but who does not instigate training in handling difficult customers, who does not ensure that the rewards recognise customer satisfaction rather than quantity of sales is telling the staff members that it is quantity not quality that counts.

Often new leaders are appointed to change a company, to bring it back to life. Some people can do it, others merely flounder. Invariably the difference is in the communication systems which are in place in the organisation. Unfortunately communication is often the last place that leaders look at when evaluating what is going wrong with their business. But it is the most vital part of the company culture, and it is the one that sets the basic understanding by the staff of what really matters.

Grandiose visions from the leader communicated by email or memos do not connect with the staff. Posters slapped up around the place announcing that “Quality counts!” will not improve quality if the leaders show by their actions and their decisions that something else is really more important.

Remember that communication is on two levels, the intellectual and the emotional. The intellectual level convinces our listeners that our arguments are sound, our information well researched and our conclusions well thought out. We may convince our audience of all of these without getting a commitment from them to do anything about it. In business, this is the fatal flaw. When we communicate as a business we want a definite outcome; we want to make the sale, we want them to commit to our ideas, or we want them to change their minds and deal with us.

Each of these options is an outcome of an emotional connection with our message, and without that emotional connection we will not create the impetus for change within our listeners. It will not matter if our presentation shows great intellectual content, if we ourselves do not demonstrate our own emotional commitment to the message: without it our audience will not believe in the need to buy, to commit or to change.

So if the leaders of a company have decided that a change in the way in which their business is conducted is necessary then they themselves must demonstrate their belief in the need for that change by walking the walk.

Changes in company policy are often communicated in impersonal ways; emails, reports, memos and second hand information. There is no emotional commitment shown by these methods and I can guarantee that it will almost always fail. The change must come from the leaders; they must communicate both the need and the desire for change, and that means being seen to walk the walk. Enthusiasm, self-belief, determination and commitment are all emotions that require some physical interaction to be believable. So get out there and be believed.

And don’t forget that all the enthusiasm and energy for change will not be believed if you do not follow that up with the decisions that create the actions that show that you really do mean what you say. If you say that the company will focus on improving a certain aspect of its core role without providing the means for the staff to actually carry out the changes, you will not be believed, your credibility will suffer and nothing will change.

Communication is the most vital part of your company’s systems and I bet that you have not checked them recently to ensure that information is being disseminated properly or that the communication that is being done is both intellectual and emotional.

The simple facts are that people are needed to communicate emotionally – not paper. And leaders who show by their actions and their decision making that they are personally committed to their words are a powerful force for change.

So how is it in your company? Do your leaders talk the talk and walk the walk? And what about you … how’s your walking and talking?

Michele @ Trischel

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