The Value of Effective Communication: TACTICS Method

communication tactics

In 1974, Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the United States. took a stand and pardoned former President Nixon, preventing a constitutional crisis during a turbulent time in American history. His role and decision put him between a rock and a hard place. He made a very difficult decision that he believed would unify a weary nation.

Regardless of Ford’s desire to reunite and heal the country, he barely beat future President Ronald Reagan in the 1976 primary – ultimately losing the national election to President Jimmy Carter. Reflecting years later, Ford blamed his election loss and failures in office on his lack of ability to communicate. He was frequently quoted through the end of his life saying, “Nothing in life is more important than the ability to communicate.

President Ford was correct. Some of our greatest failures in life, whether an international incident or a problem at home, can all be tied back to poor communication. As a family member, business owner, and a friend, almost every big mistake I have made can be tied back to poor communication. A recent study by Gartner found that 70% of corporate errors are due to poor communication.

In 2019, a national U.S. survey found that the number two reason for divorce was lack of communication. Number one was financial problems – which can also be tied to poor communication. The third reason was infidelity, which also definitely can stem from bad communication. So you can see that being able to communicate well really can have a huge impact on your life.

What You Say and How You Say It Matters

As women, we are frequently right in most situations… because we are women! (Just kidding… kind of!) But while we may have great intentions, or we can justify to the moon and back what we do, if we are unable to communicate our beliefs and our actions to others, we limit our ability to be effective. Without meaningful communication, most of the decisions we make in life – big or small- will not yield the desired impact.

In 2006, The Female Brain was published by Louann Brizendine, who determined through multiple studies that women say about 20,000 words a day, while men only speak about 7,000. Since then, multiple linguistics professors have tried to disprove Brizendine’s assertions, but have continued to find that women are saying on average 20,000 or more words per day.

As women, it really does not matter how many words we speak daily if those words are not effective, meaningful, and motivating to others. Merely speaking is not communicating. This week, I challenge you to be more effective communicators, using the TACTICS method outlined below which I have developed.

  • Timing
  • Audience
  • Content
  • Tune In
  • Intention
  • Consistency
  • Sincerity

Timing

Choose the best timing to improve your chances for success

Society jokes about the fact that during a football game is a bad time to ask your husband a serious question. The last week of school, kids typically do not listen to their teachers. And, by the way, have you ever tried to talk to your accountant about anything besides your taxes on April 10th?!

Timing is about beginning with the end in mind. It is about communicating intentionally to achieve our purpose, rather than just yapping away because it feels good to do it.

Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Lost time is never found again.”

If we time our communications too soon, or unprepared, we can never get that opportunity back. Therefore, to determine the best time to communicate, first stop and think. Don’t react immediately.

Remember that communicating is a two-way street. Not only must you be heard, but you must also be capable of receiving information in return. For example, when I don’t travel, I make it a point to pick up my children from school. I used to take conference calls during that time – stuffing the kids with treats and begging them not to scream in the back seat while I was on the call. Invariably, someone would be having a bad day – either child or client –  and the rides were miserable.

I was unable to communicate effectively because I was distracted. Taking the time to block that half hour daily has made all the difference… most importantly for me as a mother… but also for clients and employees. I now find a way to make up the time elsewhere during the day, but taking those moments for my family allows me to communicate to my children after school how much I loved and missed them. It also  allows me to give the clients and employees the respect and focus they are due.

Audience

Know your audience

Basically, there is no point communicating at all if you do not know your audience. You cannot time your communication properly or create the right message unless you know your audience. As a communicator, you make yourself look insincere and uneducated and may not even be able to expect the right outcome if your audience is unknown.

In my line of business, I see countless leaders communicating what they believe, and they may be right; but if they do not know their audience, the effort is completely useless.

The reason I made A10 Associates a bi-partisan lobbying firm is because I know my audience. After the partisan political turbulence we have experienced over the past two decades, most Americans are tired of shallow politics and looking for effective policies. Nearly 40% of Americans believe they are non-partisan. Only 13% of Americans believe they are Republicans and 17% Democrats. Most elections nowadays are decided by the middle.

These are the audience groups of my business:

  • As the largest woman-owned lobbying firm in the USA, my most important audience is qualified employees. Without strong, intelligent, dedicated employees, my business will not succeed. I cannot recruit these employees if I run a partisan organization.
  • Another important audience is the business community, who are my clients. I understand that this community wants to fight for policies that will empower and strengthen the economy; not create partisan divides. If I cannot deliver this for clients, another lobbying firm will, so I must understand these customers and communicate to them the right message and outcomes.
  • Finally, as a lobbyist, our audience is government. I have learned that there are some members of this audience that will work well with my clients, and others that will not. By knowing who is bipartisan, who is pro-business, and who is well-informed on my clients’ issues, I can determine not only who we should take time interacting with, but what the message and outcome should be. If I did not understand this audience to engage appropriately, I would waste my clients’ time and money, and I would not have a business!

Content

Content must be clear, flawless and accurate

It’s paramount that you get to the point when you communicate. Be crystal clear and take steps to ensure that you are clear. Through our corporate growth, I have found that the only way I can provide enough clarity to my team and customers when matters are critical is through written communication. I must ensure that communication is concise, documented, and understandable so that it can be referred to later and I do not lose the mission of the communication.

My grandpa, an old Naval Academy grad, used to tell my sister and I constantly as teenagers, “Girls… don’t fly off the handle when you’re full of $#%t!”

I cannot tell you how many times in my own life, I have been right and knew I had the moral high ground in a situation. But my content was flawed preventing effective communication, either because I was angry and overreacting – or I did not take the time to be informed.

Some people think it’s fun to play “devil’s advocate,” bring up random, unfounded ideas that are unrelated to the topic, and then justify them in terms of anecdotal past experiences! Ladies, do not do that to your boss!

We have a rule at our firm, that if you are going to communicate content – to each other, to a client, to a reporter, to a vendor, or to a political entity – you better have your facts straight. Moreover, if you are communicating a problem, your content better include a proposed solution. I require this as a leader, because it tells me that the person bringing the problem to the table has considered the entire situation and taken the time to evaluate a solution.

Flawless accurate content is not just about the content itself, but about spelling, grammar, style, format, and use of words. When a document is riddled with errors, or a speech is full of mistakes, the message that is being communicated cannot possibly get through. Errors and writing mistakes do not communicate the message to your reader; they communicate that you did not care enough to proofread and be accurate.

For example, when I am screening resumes for new employee applicants at A10, the first round is just based on resume flaws. Every resume that has flaws goes right to the trash folder. I am not the only employer who looks at content this way. In fact, a recent study from MIT Sloan found that resumes that have no spelling and grammar flaws are 99% more likely to lead a candidate to get hired than those that have errors!

Tune In

Learn to Listen

Communicating is a two-way street. If you are not listening, you are not communicating. You must tune in to the dialogue at hand. Women can use listening as a superpower because we are typically more prone to empathy (sorry guys) and relating to others emotionally. We can listen both with our ears, our eyes, and our hearts. Listening during communication not only helps us to show the party we are interacting with that we care and respect them, but it also helps us to adjust our message, determine the best next steps, and to even predict outcomes.

To address tuning in during a communication session, we must also consider the types of communication we are dealing with. In 2020, Dr. Albert Mehrabian, a renowned behavioral psychologist found the 7-38-55 rule. This rule states that only 7% of human communication is done verbally, 38% of communication is through tonality of voice, and 55% of our communication is through body language. If you want to effectively communicate, you must be able to observe what is going on around you and react. This will make you a better mother, friend, and career leader!

Tuning in also means recognizing what is unsaid. For example, in a conflict, I often ask myself, “Why is someone not apologizing? Is it because they think there could be business liability for them? Or, is it simply because they are not sorry?”

Either way, lack of apology in a situation can tell you far more than any other words.

Finally, tuning in means intaking and analyzing what is being communicated back. If you are making a presentation that you think is amazing and your audience is falling asleep, maybe what you are saying is not so amazing… or maybe its not being communicated properly. Only when you tune in can you change the course of the situation at hand and learn from it to improve the future.

Intention

Every step you take in life reveals your intention

Whether you like it or not and whether you realize it or not, you present yourself to the world every day with intention. Your intention, or lack thereof, communicates to the world daily. This can be as simple as tucking in your shirt and ironing your clothes, or as complicated as what we all do on Zoom nowadays – wearing comfy pants on the bottom and a jacket on the top so we look great on camera all day long! Intention communicates far more than words.

My company has recently been growing quickly. With growth comes restructuring, and, as a young chief executive, this is an area where I must improve. A few years ago, running a small firm, I barely got any resumes when I posted my little-known firm’s new roles on LinkedIn. Nowadays, I can’t get through the resumes. This makes decisions about staffing increasingly critical. A common theme I find with either employees that don’t work out or candidates that we do not hire is the intention that they communicate.

Many times, candidates that we did not hire have told me, “I was so disappointed because I wanted to work with you so badly.”

Time and time again, I had no idea because their action communicated something different from their words. They were 15 minutes late to the interview, dressed in a hoodie on camera, and/or showed up unprepared. The intention they communicated was that they did not care to work here.

Worse, is when we have to eliminate positions or let employees go over the years. How sad it is when we get into those final conversations and an employee says, “I was trying really hard” or “I was putting in a lot of effort,” when they were not regularly answering their phone or jumping into critical situations to help the team. In those settings I don’t argue or doubt that the person is being honest; maybe they were trying hard – but the intention they were communicating was the opposite.

Challenge yourself daily to align what you are communicating with your intentions.

Consistency

Be consistent with your message at all times, whatever it takes

Ensure that what you are communicating is consistent. Consistent content really matters to the parties you are communicating with and your ability to achieve your goals. If you are inconsistent with your content, you quickly lose credibility and become ineffective at your mission. As are all things, this is critical in your personal and professional life.

According to a recent marketplace study, 85% of employees report feeling more motivated when management offers consistent updates on company news. 91% of the workforce believes that consistent content in communication from superiors is vital for corporate success. As professionals, we cannot tell one colleague one direction and another colleague another direction, not only does that make us appear insincere, but it impairs operational clarity and undermines effective collaboration. Why communicate at all if you are going to be inconsistent.

In our families, consistent communication is also key. We are not always the perfect mother, sister, or daughter, but the more consistent we can be with other parties, the more effectively we will express ourselves. This is something I learned very quickly after having two very different children. My son is incredibly strong willed and tough; he is an alpha male already at age 8. My daughter is a sweetie pie, a rule follower, and leads by quiet example.

I cannot discipline or even communicate with them in the exact same style, because I cannot get through to them the same way. But I can communicate the same message to them. I constantly drill into their heads that they must do their best, be kind, and tell the truth. I keep it simple. When I discipline them, I frame the discussion in terms of those three expectations. Those expectations are consistent and simple, even for young children. They can be easily reinforced.

Sincerity

“Sincerity and truth are the basis of every virtue” – Confucius

Sincerity, in our acronym TACTICS, is last because we must save the best for last. Sincerity is the most necessary part of all communication, whether you do everything else right. If you are not listening sincerely, because you do not care about what you are hearing, nothing else matters in a conversation. If you are not being considerate of others and expressing sincerity when timing a communication, you will fail. If you don’t mean what you say and it is not the truth, you simply will not be able to keep track of your message. Whether intentional or not, lying will get you nowhere.

One of my greatest mentors, Larry Rasky, who taught me how to be lobbyist, used to always tell me to be first in the door with bad news. It took me a long time until I really understood what he meant.

Since his passing in 2020, I have constantly wished I could speak to him about everything he taught me. Now that I have my own company, I finally realize what he meant. When you are the first one in the door with bad news, you are not part of a cover up — you are immediately part of a solution. When you come forward with the truth in a difficult time, you are showing that you have the intention to sincerely handle the situation.

Being sincere means making difficult decisions, and not just going with the flow. When you can make difficult decisions, you may hurt in the short term, but in the long term, your sincerity will shine. I do not know where my mother used to get this quote when we were kids, but I have never forgotten it… especially because I was not a particularly “cool” or “popular” kid. She would always tell us,  “What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right.”

As empowered women, we are never going to be perfect mothers, colleagues, or mates, but the more we chose to do what is right, the more sincere we become, and the more effectively we will communicate daily. The accuracy and efficiency we put forward to communicate the messages we hold dear will make all the difference in lives and the lives of others.

What have you learned about effective communication in your life? I challenge you to implement the TACTICS method in your life over the next few months and see what happens next.

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