Coronavirus (COVID-19), Learning & Development, Talent

Authentic Communication as a Competitive Edge in the Face of COVID-19

The one common objective for every business is to be successful. Success, and the means to sustain it, has been pored over, written about, and waxed upon from every conceivable angle and vantage point.

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Legions of experts have shared theories and constructed complex models designed to prescribe the steps for achieving optimal business results. Although there often are myriad steps in navigating toward success, the most fundamental step is as uncomplicated as it is overlooked: effective communication.

True authentic communication is a skill that applies to any industry or profession, and it is one that can help organizations weather economic upswings and downturns, even during a global pandemic. The golden thread for achieving business results amid the most trying of times is directly linked to individuals who can lead by motivating and inspiring others to specific actions. Nothing is more powerful and efficient than driving results through our spoken communication.

The ability to move a single listener, or an entire audience, to the destination of your choosing through your spoken word is, without question, one of the most critical and prized competencies of business execution and leadership excellence. According to the LinkedIn 2020 Workplace Learning Report, soft skills, which include communication, are perennially recognized as the highest priority of leadership and business success.

Authentic Connection as an Objective to Drive Business Results

The art of motivating and inspiring others to action can be boiled down to one thing: human connection. Communication teaches those whose job it is to build, trains those responsible for making business decisions, and influences the relationships we maintain with the valuable customers we all rely upon to move our businesses forward. Profound connection is the cherished goal of human interaction, and it is only accomplished when we communicate in an authentic manner that is perceived as trustworthy.

Particularly as we all wade through the murky waters of COVID-19, or indeed during any time of crisis, uncertainty, and upheaval, business leaders of all stripes find themselves faced with a choice. They can choose to hold important, often critical information close to the vest due to fear of the unknown, or they can recognize the moment as an opportunity to establish trust through empathy, humility, and authenticity.

It is a well-understood fact that human beings are extremely vulnerable to trust issues in times of uncertainty and fear. According to a recent report authored by Walt Whitmer, educator at the PennState Extension, trust and long-term relationship building play an important role in helping organizations effectively meet their missions and the needs of their constituents and stakeholders. He further points out that this is even more true in times of crises, such as COVID-19.

In these situations, truly authentic communicators don’t hide facts or sugarcoat realities just because they can or out of a sense of obligation to protect those around them. Perhaps counterintuitively, approaching pivotal business moments as a chance to have honest and transparent conversations galvanizes the audiences that rely on your honesty to feel secure.

Ultimately, your communication deepens those critically important connections. Authenticity is the foundation of trust; without trust, business success is greatly inhibited. When you are truly authentic in your communication, things change, people unite, relationships bond, and commitment grows.

Results in a Virtual World

Achieving these same results in an unfamiliar environment, where practically all in-person contact has suddenly been eliminated due to COVID-19, can be a daunting task. Those responsible for meeting business and organizational objectives, many of whom do not possess the raw skills to pivot in such a way, are being asked to forge that same depth of connection virtually.

According to Sobel-Lojeski and Reilly in their book Uniting the Virtual Workforce: Transforming Leadership and Innovation in the Globally Integrated Enterprise, communication problems strongly influence every aspect of virtual distance. It is one of the most insidious issues in today’s global workforce, only further amplified by the global pandemic, and overcoming it requires a tireless effort.

Regardless of the technological improvements of virtual platforms, delivering successful communication authentically over a laptop requires an entirely different set of skills and capabilities. Simply stated, virtual communication is very challenging because people just don’t “feel” from communication over machines.

It’s incumbent upon every organization’s leaders to make a deliberate decision to focus on providing their teams with the appropriate training that can help them overcome the communication challenge.

Virtual communication is riddled with nuances. The foundation for successfully making a connection with faces on a screen requires that your energy be felt, that you be present and not distracted, and that your message be delivered with honesty and conviction. A meaningful approach to truly authentic communication training requires a program that’s as individual as the person being trained; there are no quick out-of-the-box fixes.

Investments in training programs are truly investments in the organization’s success. And they should be viewed as investments rather than expenditures. Tips and tricks simply don’t move the needle for meaningful change that drives sustainable success.

Regardless of the medium or events of the day, each of us has the opportunity to magnify a strength we already possess: the opportunity to communicate honestly and authentically. The reward for doing so is the success for which we all strive.

Scott Weiss is owner and CEO of Speakeasy, a 47-year-old global communication coaching and professional development company headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, with additional offices around the globe. Weiss was introduced to Speakeasy as a client after 10 successful years as a senior executive on Wall Street and with a public company in the media entertainment industry. His own Speakeasy experience was profound enough that he joined the company as Executive VP and bought the business 10 years later in 2003. His bestselling book DARE! has received a gold medal award for ethics, and he speaks regularly on the importance of honesty and trust in communication.

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