Anyone can improve their leadership when they understand the following truth: How something is said is often more important than what is said! This new insight is the difference between Content (what is said) and Process (how it is said). When it comes to leadership, communication matters!
It is obvious in communication we need both Process AND Content. In other words, we need both the How AND the What.
In previous blog posts, I shared that there are two aspects to Process:
- How we do things.
- How we say things.
In this writing, I will focus on how we say things.
How do you communicate and interact with people on a day-to-day basis? How we say something can significantly impact what the recipient of the message feels is being conveyed. Our physical actions and tone of voice can reinforce or contradict the message in the words we are saying.
How we say things matters
When the way that something is said (process) conveys a different meaning than the actual words (content), the interpretation triggered by the process will prevail. For example, when two old friends meet after many years of separation, one might say “George, you old _______!” The words themselves may be negative, but if they are spoken with a ring in the voice, George will have no doubt know that his friend is delighted to see him.
With sarcastic comments, too, the way things are said overrides the meanings of the words themselves. Negative pitch of voice has the power to dominate positive words.
Leadership Communication Truth:
If the way we say something is out of alignment with what we are saying, The way we say it will always dominate the communication.
Your English teacher always said that punctuation was important. And as with punctuation, just changing what you say with a pause (an oral comma) can make a big difference in meaning, too. For example:
- Let’s eat grandma!
- Let’s eat, grandma!
But what about those who argue that content is all-important? “I may not have time to worry about how I say something,” the content-oriented leader points out. “It’s much faster to be brief and concise and get on with the work at hand. What’s right is right, and that’s all that should matter!”
Yes, there are times when you can’t worry about how you say something (although it might be better if you did!).
A good investment
But when trying to build and strengthen interpersonal relationships an attitude that “what’s right is right” can be absolutely wrong! We may be able to make no better investment than the small amount of time and effort required to improve the way things are said and done.
Certainly, some conditions require quick authoritarian action. In the event of a fire, for example, even a highly participative leader would be likely to holler “Fire!” and direct people’s actions according to the needs of the situation.
And when bullets are flying, military officers can be expected to bark orders. However, during noncritical periods, the best leaders usually interact in a participative way.
The purpose of this post is to illustrate how our friends Process AND Content enter into different things we say as leaders, and quite possibly affect the outcomes in ways we do not foresee or want unless we align Process with Content.
If the Content is what is said, and the Process is how we say it, where do you see the most opportunity for improvement in your leadership?