Interview with Ben and Kelly Decker, Authors of New Book "Communicate to Influence"
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Communicate To Influence (CTI) is a new book by power communications duo Ben and Kelly Decker. Its a Prolific Wisdom recommended read. Questions come from the Prolific Wisdom community of Harvard grad book-lovers. Key points are highlighted.
1) If there was one thing you would want a reader to take away from the Communicate To Influence ("CTI"), what would it be?
Shift how you think about communications – in all parts of your life. The fun part of the book is that it's not only for improving formal business communications – it also applies to our personal life, family life and the other dozens of times that we communicate with others throughout the day.
Whether we’re trying to influence or inspire, we forget that we have to connect with our audience – each audience – each time. People pigeonhole the application of communication, thinking it’s just for board meetings or town halls. We have to be likeable to influence. We wrote this book to apply communication skills and lessons to life. One of our favorite responses is when CEOs share how well these skills are working in the rest of their lives.
2) What were the biggest surprises for you as communications experts in doing the research for CTI?
How often we see the pitfalls of communications in high-level executives, just like we see with mid-level managers. Most people expect that along with a more senior role, title or level, individuals are just innately better at the nuts and bolts of communicating. This is really not the case.
While our research has been compiled over the last 30+ years of working with and coaching executives, many of the anecdotes came from real-life experiences that were happening at that exact time, so if we wrote the book in August of 2015, we would have similar examples – just different companies and circumstances.
3) Are there any methods you describe in the book that you've only started using after writing CTI?
A lot of the methodologies and principles from the book, we (and most of our team at Decker Communications) practice and teach regularly as part of our trainings and executive coaching sessions. It’s practically in our DNA. The reason we wrote the book was to share these tools more broadly and with a wider audience.
That said, our newest tool, the Communicator's RoadmapTM, has affected my mindset. Now I continuously think of where I might be and where I want to go. Ex: I am normally in Direct mode with certain members of my team, so I need to connect more emotionally with them. Along with the directives, I will add some humor or share things I wouldn't normally.
4) A lot has been said on the importance of non-verbal communication (both body language and tone) in meetings - up to 90%+ of the message. Then there was a lot of backlash and refutations. What do you think - how much of the impact during in person meetings is from content?
The backlash is totally understandable, and it’s because the stat is not accurate. Those numbers are frequently (and unfortunately) used improperly and shared incorrectly. The real numbers are from Albert Mehrabian, and the study is over 30 years old. The research emphasized when it's an 'inconsistent' message, people will tend to believe the non-verbals – up to 90%. Too often we see leaders share positive news in flat, monotone voices with scowls on their faces. That is a perfect example of an inconsistent message. The research shows we’re more likely to believe what we see than what is said. The visual and vocal block the verbal channel. That clarification is important, and all of our coaching and training focuses on getting people to be consistent in all their communications.
Content absolutely still matters! When it’s a consistent message, the communicator has an opportunity to stand out even more.
5) If you were to write CTI 2: what topics would you tackle?
There is so much practicality and usefulness to learning Q&A principles. Dialogue, not monologue, represents the majority of our lives, and we weren't able to fit enough detail about Q&A into the book. Whether after a big speech, at the end of a meeting, or even during a 1 on 1 review, Q&A is often done pretty poorly – and it can be such a great addition if done well. We cover it in almost all of our trainings, and the goal of the book was to bring our experiential trainings, as we deliver them around the country and world, into writing.
Many readers also want specific steps on how to communicate better in each environment: webinars, telepresence, conference calls, etc. We assume people can connect the dots, but it turns out that people love specific frameworks and how-to tips. The challenge for such a sequel would be to make sure it’s not a boring, step-by-step guide – that’s not our style.
6) What are the Communication, Presentation and Influence books everyone should read after CTI?
Because we live in a world of communication, I love other genres where I can pick up nuggets and draw comparisons. For example, Team of Teams by General McChrystal shares how shifting the focus to transparency improved teamwork against Al Qaeda. You never know from where a nugget or an “ah-ha” might come.
We have partnered with the Heath Brothers for years, and Made To Stick should be a staple for everyone. I loved it when it first came out over 7 years ago, and I have been giving it away ever since. Really makes you think deeper into your message or what you say and focus on the emotional component to stand out and be remembered, or sticky for that matter. We love Daniel Pink's To Sell is Human, and Malcolm Gladwell's Blink to emphasize how quickly people judge or categorize. It will help readers motivate themselves to change, since all of communications are focused on habits and whether communication habits are challenging to change.
7) What are some of your favorite shining examples of great business communicators who show 'passion and lightness'?
What is interesting about business leaders is that we see the same things everyone else sees. We have the same response and emotions to various leaders (although yes, it’s a little different because we want to help fix them). We share an annual list of the 10 best and worst communicators, which is always a great source of standout examples and communication lessons. The challenge in identifying great business examples is finding leaders who are high profile, public and visible enough that most people know them. A couple great business examples from this past year include Tony Fadell and Richard Branson. You can’t deny the passion, lightness and likability they exude when they are communicating. We don’t think it’s a coincidence that success follows them.
8) Do you think the rise of social media is going to mean there's less people able to communicate effectively in the real world? Do you think people will be more likely to thin-slice based in the future as a consequence of social media usage?
This is a valid concern, and as more young people enter the workplace, there will be more work to do. So many of our clients want their kids to go through our programs because they just use their smartphones, and they don't want to even call restaurants to make a reservation. "Can't I use an app?"
In-person communication will never go away, and in fact, it will become more vital as less people are good at it. The cream will always rise to the top, and communication will remain a primary focus for any person who wants to excel in the “real world.” We like to work with and buy from people we like and admire and to whom we connect. In any role or industry, it’s our connection to others that will open doors of opportunity or close them.
As for thin-slicing based on social media, of course that will happen more. However, one general foundation won't go away – value. Those who excel in social media are adding value for their viewers and followers. They are creating content based on the needs of their listeners. Tie that into in-person communication, and the Communicators RoadmapTM – we need to shift our content toward our audience and about our audience, to add value to them. What does it mean to them, why would they care – vs. just describing our widget.
And with in-person communications, of course the behavior DOES matter, otherwise you can fall back into that 90% argument. ;-)
Interview Key Contributors
Boris Tsimerinov (PLD 2013) - VP, CCC Investment Banking
Mark Brooks (PLD 2014) - CEO, Courtland Brooks
Georges Selvais (MBA 1975) - MD / Co-founder, Catalyst Quality
For the love of learning.