Communication continues to be the number one skill that leads to success in our lives and in our work. If we master the art of communication, we are likely to thrive. If we misuse communication, we are just as likely to fail.
Let’s look at an example of someone who is in my mind a great communicator, someone who had prominence in the public eye and whose success was largely due to her outstanding communication skills.
You may remember Karen Hughes as one of President George W. Bush’s most trusted confidants and strategists. She was a key figure in running Bush’s gubernatorial and presidential campaigns and is best known in political circles for running a tight campaign communications shop.
When President Bush was elected to his first term in the White House, Hughes was given the title of White House communications director, a high honor indeed. Then, in the summer of 2002, she left the White House to spend more time with her family, still assisting the president, but doing so from her home base.
Later, as the president prepared for his second term campaign, he asked Hughes to return, which she did in August 2004. So why was Hughes worthy of being invited back? Quite simply, she had shown herself to be really, really good at communicating the intentions of the president.
Staying “On Message”
Hughes is said to have meticulously managed President Bush’s relations with the media by ensuring that all the spokespersons in the campaign followed the same carefully crafted message. She also took full responsibility for taking the president’s message and clarifying it, simplifying it, managing it, recovering it, even spinning it if necessary, all with outstanding results.
Hughes exhibited clear and smart communication techniques:
- She had a clear intention for every conversation.
- She spoke with strength and persuasion.
- She spoke with passion about what she believed in.
These are the characteristics that made her successful, sought after, and among the best communicators in our nation.
In April 2004, in an interview on Meet the Press, Hughes was asked, “What do you think is the biggest mistake that President Bush made following the terrorist attack of 9/11?”
She paused briefly, never blinked, sat tall and straight, and then she said, “You know I don’t think in those terms at all. What I do know is that this president exhibited exactly the strength needed to move this country forward while effectively instituting a plan to protect Americans from any further attacks.”
Whether you agree with what she said, this was a brilliant answer. In fact, it was a “nonanswer” of the highest order. Not only did she completely steer her answer away from the idea of any mistake at all, she used her time to say what she wanted to say about the president.
What can we learn from Hughes’ example? Is good communication about being nice?
Is it about being soft-spoken and conciliatory?
Not in this case.
Is it about backing down when the going gets tough, or striking back?
I think not — usually those are the worst actions of all.
Or is good communication about:
Having a clear intention for the outcome?
Choosing the right words to create that outcome?
Being clear and concise?
And then using exactly the right tone to deliver those words?
It takes skill to deliver good communication. You need to be smart, think on your feet, and speak with strength, confidence, tact, and knowledge. And you need to be able to put all that together in a nanosecond, if necessary. Each day we are faced with extraordinary opportunities to either be understood or not. To be our best, we need to continue to educate ourselves on how to communicate clearly, concisely, and with the end result in mind.
Flo Schell, EdM, is former vice president of Franchise Development for Sylvan Learning Systems Inc. and founder of Franchise Coaching Systems. She has also written a book, Stop Selling: Start Clicking that explains her successful sales process. To learn more about the services offered by Franchise Coaching Systems, visit FloSchell.com.