Great communication can change an audience’s attitude but it can also change the communicator’s behavior. When you say something in a way others need to hear it, you’ll have a stronger likelihood of doing things the way the audience needs them done. This just naturally happens with anyone who wants to be effective and good.
This is a big lesson from this week’s book by Dr. Frank Luntz: Words That Work. The book demonstrates strategies and tactics for communicating with several different audiences, ranging from a single person to thousands. Naturally, it gleans many of these lessons from the political world since it politics relies almost exclusively on communication. All your success as a politician comes from your ability to communicate.
Until it doesn’t.
After all, the political graveyard is littered with examples of those who didn’t do what they said they would do. If you make big promises and don’t keep them, the public (regardless of country or culture) will hold you accountable. It’s only fair.
It’s also why effective communication (the talk) and effective action (the walk) are both deeply dependent on one another. You cannot succeed in the long run without both. Yesterday’s article highlighted the way that Jimmy Carter’s poor communication overshadowed his good action. But again, anyone who suffers the reverse of that problem—good communication but poor action—will ultimately fail to a worse degree.
Walking The Talk
Everyone makes mistakes but the best of us regularly strive to live up to their ideals. At our best, we all sticking to our words, our message, even when it makes us uncomfortable. That discipline is how identity is formed.
As an example, let’s return to Herb Kelleher. I mentioned him in Tuesday’s article as a fabulous leader and communicator who naturally followed the Ten Rules of Effective Language from Frank Luntz’s book. I could cite a hundred quotes to demonstrate all the ways he was a genuine master of communication.
Here are some favorites.
A company is stronger if it is bound by love rather than by fear.
Think small and act small, and we’ll get bigger. Think big and act big, and we’ll get smaller.
Leading an organization is as much about soul as it is about systems. Effective leadership finds its source in understanding.
The essential difference in service is not machines or ‘things.’ The essential difference is minds, hearts, spirits, and souls.
Again, from a technical communication standpoint, these lines are absolute home runs. Frank Luntz would definitely be proud. But what Luntz really calls for in all his writings and presentations isn’t these perfect soundbites. He calls for people to then follow-through on those soundbites with real action.
Kelleher did that all the time. Even when it wasn’t expedient. After all, a CEO who says they’ll act small (even when they become the price leader of the entire marketplace), it means giving up the chance to be the bully.
And when a CEO says they’ll operate out of love rather than fear (even when airlines are a cutthroat industry), it means they’ll take unnecessary risks.
And when a CEO says they’ll lead with their soul instead of their system, it means they’ll remain unconventional. Even when no one asks them to.
It is a trap, really. A good, positive, wonderful trap. Make this sort of talk and you’ll have to make that sort of walk. This is precisely how Malice In Dallas was born.
Malice In Dallas
If you haven’t heard of this before, I’ll keep it brief and invite you to check out the great summary provided by Matt Blitz at Gizmodo. This all started with a dispute between Southwest Airlines and a carrier in my former home of Greenville, South Carolina (represent!). Both airlines claimed ownership of a slogan. Ordinarily, when neither party budges, these disputes go to court. But going to court over something like this doesn’t seem to fit the ideals that Herb Kelleher perpetuated.
Would fighting a smaller regional carrier in court be an act of love or fear?
Isn’t there some smaller, simpler way to deal with these things?
And besides, does a court battle fit the service mentality of hearts, minds, and souls?
If a court battle doesn’t fit this identity that Kelleher communicated, what would?
The answer, in hindsight, is pretty obvious and altogether wonderful. You settle it with an arm wrestling match. A three-part extravaganza culminating in the chain-smoking Herb Kelleher straining against the Kurt Herwald of Stevens Aviation.
You may be wondering … who won? The truth is there are no losers in this sort of competition.
Your Talk Determines Your Walk
In closing, Frank Luntz offers specific words that work. It just so happens that the words that work for effective communication are the same words that edify people, strengthen our resolve, reaffirm our basic morals and principles, and deliver on our fundamental human needs. What is written as a communication book can be equally read as a manual for being a good person.
That might sound like a stretch but consider an example Luntz offers in Chapter 11 involving one-on-one conversations with your boss.
How To Ask For A Raise Or Promotion
If you want a raise or promotion, you need to help your boss understand the consequences that will occur otherwise. That doesn’t mean you threaten your boss. That’s the exact opposite of what you must do. But you also don’t make an argument that you deserve the raise. Frankly, to say you deserve it is, well, your opinion. And a boss can freely express a different one. They probably will because no one is ever impressed by another person’s high self-esteem.
Consequences are the pivot here. But you want to introduce them from a standpoint of value. As Luntz explains:
Your effort must be to convince your boss to imagine what would happen if [you] were no longer there. “Imagine if …” are the two most effective words you can use in this situation.
If you achieve the “imagine if” visualization by demonstrating your future value, chances are you’ll end up getting that raise, bonus, or promotion.
I think he’s right. Not only because it helps a boss see the value you have to offer but it also sets up a reasonable exchange. What you’ve done to deserve a raise is, well, already done. It won’t help. What you will do to justify the raise is not yet done. Imagining those future actions makes this a different conversation. It lends you a better chance.
It also sets an expectation. You will need to deliver the future value that you’ve inspired the boss to imagine. Is that bad? I don’t think so. It’s simply walking the talk.
This is clearly not just a tactic for effective communication. It is also a reframing of the entire conversation around commitments and actions that you can and should make. Herb Kelleher did it. He and Kurt Herwald reframed a dispute into a friendly, wonderful exchange. We can do this, too.