Sometimes clients don’t fully understand, make full use of or give credit to the value added by communications pros. Yet, these individuals work under intense time or performance pressure, a reason why their positions are ranked as among the most stressful jobs. This work can be a balancing act, weighing big-picture and micro decisions, orchestrating operations across teams of many roles and levels.
Yet communications work can be very satisfying. As I’ve watched communications pros at work over the years, I’ve noticed that something more among the real greats. For them, it’s more than a transactional business.
There's a deeper way that these people learn and connect.
They have a real curiosity about life, which results in their leaving a real impact even on the days when the going gets tough. In thinking about the qualities of seriously effective communications people who’ve inspired me, here are a few key points below:
Everything in the communications field hinges on understanding how people think and work.
I’ve noticed that the best communications pros are able to “get under the skin” of their target audiences and really relate to their story, their needs. How do they make decisions? What are their aspirations, pains, unrequited goals?
Look at a target audience. Think about the work of these individuals, their day-to-day hopes and frustrations, the things they wish for while driving to work and what they try to make sense of as they drive home.
With closed eyes, imagine being the audience. Or speak to some members of the ideal audience. Ask lots of questions and really learn from their answers. Become a student of people and build an understanding that leads to having a real communications impact.
Crafting stories is an art form for top communicators. So often people forget that what seems like a whole book is actually just a chapter, part of a longer-term vision being built. Good authors often have the gift of seeing chapters as whole stories, making them complete while knowing they’re only part of a larger arc.
Understanding how stories work -- and how the human mind responds to them -- is the craftt of top communications professionals. Looking for classic heroes, villains, victims and other archetypes, to the structure of timeless human drama and narrative structure will allow for seeing the world -- and work -- in new ways.
I’ve often heard people praise excellent communications partners by saying, “She helps me see the big picture” or “He gets me out of my comfort zone.” A strong devil’s advocate can push others into deeper understanding and prepare them to address unexpected alternatives to the way they see things.
This takes finesse: The idea is to help broaden and strengthen a point of view and not necessarily to change it.
Practice thought tennis. Be the person who makes other people smarter by helping them sharpen their thoughts and expand their view.
Come up with questions (“What would your competition say?” or “What if that never happened?”) that artfully guide people out of their comfort zone. This will elevate the potential impact.
Related: 7 Power Tools of Persuasion
Communications professionals who can immerse themselves in the bigger picture see a whole different view than those on the ground -- and that’s a huge value when it comes to mapping the right path.
Be the thought partner who can go way up to the drone’s eye view. Look at a situation as part of a bigger picture than someone close to it normally would, mapping it out to a bigger landscape. It’s hard to zoom out while being right in the thick of a situation.
Those who skim the surface don't do enough to excel.
In helping people grasp something, be curious enough to understand it. Yes, it takes work to really understand, but do that by researching or always asking questions, digging deeper, learning more. Collect the dots that ultimately allow for connecting them (the more dots, the more connections). And that’s key to excellence in communications.
Communications isn’t a desk job. Communications pros spend a lot of time on the phone and keyboards. But at the end of the day that’s not where it really happens. Being relevant, connecting with others, developing a sense of what’s really happening -- all of that happens best when someone is out in the real world.
Yes, it can be hard to break free, especially in client-driven work. But the best communications people I’ve known have taken lessons from sports, art and the outdoors and inspiring leaders. They try new things, ask new questions and always keep expanding their comfort zone. I like how Steve Jobs talked about it, somewhat irreverently.
Communications pros earn trust when they're informed (studying people, geeking out, getting out), have a ready tool kit of knowledge and experience (understanding stories, zooming out), have the courage to be honest (mastering the counterpoint) and embody the integrity.
Develop these skills and rise as that go-to person who truly creates an impact at work -- and it's possible to gain a lot of satisfaction to boot.
What would you add to the list?
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