Great communication is not in what we say, but in how we say it. To prove this point, consider Tarzan. He was one terrific communicator. With just one word “UMGAWA,” he had whatever he needed at the time. Picture him caught among feuding natives with spears flying past his head. He calls out, “UMGAWA!” and the elephants and tigers come running to his rescue. He goes to his tree house, relaxes and quietly says, “Umgawa” to Cheetah. Cheetah (his monkey for those of you who don’t know the Tarzan story) simply goes straight for a banana and brings it back to Tarzan. Jane enters the tree house and he seductively says, “Umgawa.” You can fill in the blanks on that one.
How did the wild animals, Cheetah, and Jane all know just what Tarzan wanted? He said exactly the same thing to all three. It wasn’t what he said; it was in how he said it. His tone, emphasis, conciseness, and body language all factored in to how his message was received.
Consider each of those areas to discern whether your communication style is as effective as Tarzan’s. Do you exude strength and authority through your words, emphasizing what is most important, while still maintaining the appropriate tone and not being offensive? Are you confident without being cocky or rude? Confidence doesn’t mean you have the answer to everything, but you carry yourself with the knowledge that you can get the answer or trust someone to give you the answer without appearing weak. It’s a quiet strength.
How about conciseness? Do you speak directly and concisely on important matters, not wasting time with irrelevant fluff? Effective communication involves listening skills and an awareness of your audience. Watch the signals given by the receiver of your message to indicate if he/she understands or if further explanation is necessary. When you see you have understanding, don’t ramble and continue repeating different variations of the topic at hand.
We all believe what we see over what we hear. Body language is critical. If you have strength of voice but continually flip your hair, fidget with your hands, or display some other form of nervous behavior, your message will be lost. Make good eye contact, stand upright with your shoulders back, and display confidence.
Finally, know what you’re talking about. Tarzan was king of the jungle. No one was better informed of what was happening in his kingdom than he was (where to find food or water, how to maneuver around, where to find safety, etc.). In your leadership role, if you have the same level of knowledge that Tarzan had in his jungle, and practice the effective communication techniques previously noted, you will convey the confidence of Tarzan. Umgawa!
Susan Simmons is the Executive Vice President / Human Resources Director for First Federal Savings Bank in Elizabethtown, KY