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Jim Gray
Jim Gray

Leadership Lab

Resolve to communicate better despite technology lowering standards Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

As we roll into 2016, it’s clear that a trend has become a pandemic – millions now speak and write in the workplace with an alarming lack of clarity, grammar and graciousness.

What’s to blame?

Social media has had a lot to do with it, making everyone his or her own star, and loosening (and thereby lowering) the standards and boundaries of public expression.

But it goes deeper than that, to an accepted carelessness that’s rendered clear, lean, strategic communication increasingly rare, and thus more potent.

The New Year is an ideal time to review our careers, and implement changes that can strengthen them. By integrating the following old school communication resolutions with current technology, you can shoot the vocational lights out in 2016:

Be simple: With more options than ever by which to convey a message, the more confusing the message seems to get. Simplicity has never been more important. It’s increasingly rare because it takes a ton of time and hard work to get there. It’s worth every second. A straightforward, consistent, easily understandable story is the foundation of communication success. Once established, it can be effectively rolled out across a myriad of platforms.

Be brief: With each passing year, our collective attention span diminishes. To influence your audience – whether it’s one or 100,000 -- keep your narrative tight and bright. Brevity delivers impact. Write long, and cut short. When speaking, never go over the allotted time. It’s resented.

Be prepared: You’re a brand in a transforming world. Be able to tell others what value you bring – in no more than three points. Monitor, manage and protect your online identity – it can enhance your standing, or undermine it – for example, with drunken bathing suit shots from Cancun.

Be certain: Speak like the leader you are, or want to be. Start slowly, and put plenty of space around key words and phrases. Inflect down, not up. “Up talk” can make the most accomplished executive sound like a 12-year-old. And never begin a sentence with the word “like”, as in, “Like, I texted her, but she didn’t text back.”

Be listening: Give the people around you the time and respect to fully express themselves. Interruption is verbal mugging. When your boss, client or prospect is talking (and you aren’t), you’ll learn stuff. Silence is a killer app of the early 21st century. A famous quote goes: “Only silence is great.”

Be grammatical: One grammatical or spelling error – especially of someone’s name – can undermine the credibility of an otherwise sound document. Ditch online acronyms in business correspondence. If you’re speaking and flub, calmly correct yourself and move on. The bigger deal you make of it, the bigger deal it will become in the minds of your listeners.

Be positive: It’s easy to buy into today’s pervasive negativity, and hard to maintain an enthusiastic outlook amid an uncertain future. But leaders, in speech and correspondence, emphasize the positive while realistically acknowledging challenges. They seek to conclude every interaction on a high, knowing it can galvanize and inspire others. Negativity is a drag – so low end, so limiting, and so damaging to an organization. Optimism is contagious.

Be memorable: Business is about relationships. Look to expand and deepen yours. Compliment others, sincerely, not gratuitously. Take the time to hand-write notes. If you need to discuss a difficult issue with someone, it’s of course best to do so in person, or at least over the phone. However, if you absolutely have to do it by email, don’t copy the world, lest you escalate a situation that could have been resolved amicably.

That’s a worthy objective for 2016, and for years to come.

Jim Gray, a former reporter, is a senior communications adviser in Toronto. He serves organizations at the senior executive level, developing strategy, managing issues, and providing expert crisis, presentation and media skills coaching. E-mail: jgray@mediastrategy.ca.

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