What makes for effective communication?

Or alternatively consider who is an example of an effective communicator?

Unconsciously we all adapt our communication styles depending on our audience, environment, mood etc. Think about how you communicate to your grandmother compared to your friends. This isn't a conscious decision but proves we all have the capacity to alter our communication style. 

Further to this, consider more than just the words we speak, consider our body language, our tone, our demeanour and how this all shifts depending on our communication requirements. 

As coaches we need to be able to alter our delivery at times within sessions. If we have a group of 50 athletes we're about to "warm-up" and get ready for their session, we should have a highly engaged, highly energised communication style, with a very commanding posture. Now imagine during the last warm up drill if an athlete were to roll their ankle. You send the other 49 athletes off to start their session and tend to the injured athlete. Instantly you need to switch into a much more intimate, calm, reassuring communication style. 

While this is an unconscious behaviour that we can all exhibit, great coaches are very conscious about how they deliver a message. So how do we do it?

As is shown in the above video, we know that we can adapt our physiology by consciously adapting our body language, but we can also consciously adapt how we communicate.

The old adage, "begin with the end in mind" applies here. What are we wanting to be the outcome of our communication? What are we hoping our audience receive from our communication? If someone yells at you you will experience a release of stress hormones and and increased state of arousal. Is that what we are trying to achieve? Maybe. Are we yelling because it is going to achieve our desired outcome or because it is going to make ourselves feel better because we are frustrated? As coaches we need to be thinking about what we want our athletes to achieve, and adapting our style accordingly.

Barack Obama is an example of a very effective communicator. Consider the below video. Consider the change in body position, tone, speed of delivery, visual emotion that you can see between all the different types of messages he sends. The clear distress when talking of the Sandy Hook massacre, how slow and deliberate and real the message of care is. Then consider the final section of the Farewell Speech, the intensity, the volume, the passion, the delegation of responsibility ("believe in yourself", not the use of "I" or "me") with the intent to rally the American people to effect change. Great communicators will attempt to do this consciously by carefully considering the way they want their message to be delivered based on the outcome they want to achieve. This may seem tricky, but it doesn't have to be! You can achieve this by either A) visualising the "character" you wish to portray and imitating their style or B) working backwards from a feeling to the person/event that made you feel that way. For example, that may be remembering back to your first experience with a pet if you're trying to achieve a calm and caring persona, or the classic "I'm not angry, I'm disappointed" parent talk if you are wanting the group to take responsibility for poor attentiveness in a session. 

How do you know what message the other person or people need to receive? In order to do that we need to truly understand the audience, what they are feeling and ideally even why they are feeling that way. Listening is much more than just hearing what the other person is saying, it involves truly listening to what they are saying, how they are saying it and even their behaviour around that. The first and easiest place to start is the next time you are in a conversation, catch yourself when you start planning your response to the other person. You will find that the majority of the time we are planning our response before the other person has even finished talking. The human brain can only really focus on 1 thing at a time and so if you are planning your response then you are not truly listening. This is why good speakers encourage a pause between the end of the question or statement and the response as this allows you to listening to the full message and then plan your response before answering. Barack Obama is also known for how slowly he will often talk, and how long he will take before answering a question. This allows him to truly listen, then plan his response and adjust as he goes along as required. 

We know a lot of the time we as humans will not say what we are truly feeling as we don't like to appear vulnerable. And so it is our role in assisting in influencing those around us to attempt to truly understand what they are feeling. My favourite example of this involves Alastair Clarkson, the Hawthorn coach and Grant Birchall when he was playing for Hawthorn. You can read Grant Birchall telling the story here. The thing I love most about this story is at no time did Grant Birchall say he was lonely or that he needed support, but as a leader and supporter of his, Alastair Clarkson chose to do it as he thought that is what was needed. 


A leader isn't necessarily the person who is in front. A leader is someone that people want to follow. Think about certain people in leadership roles, are they people you would want to follow?

We know that from research, if someone who appears homeless jaywalks, that virtually nobody will follow them across the road. When someone dressed in business attire carrying a brief case does, a lot of people will follow them across the road. Our subconscious brain will naturally follow people we deem to be in positions of leadership or that are "powerful". But dress sense is not enough. Our actions and behaviour need to match the values of someone we are willing to align ourselves with. We also know that if someone dresses in business attire, that people who are from an arts type background are less likely to buy raffle tickets from them. We are more likely to align with someone we associate with or that is appropriately

Who would you follow or believe in?

There is no right answer without context. If you were seeing an orthopaedic surgeon, the first picture would probably make you feel most comfortable. If you were doing something athletic, perhaps the second and lastly if you were building a new house, probably the last picture. It is symbolic of communication. Adapting our communication style, which even includes what we are wearing, will significantly effect whether people will want to follow us

We often think of communication as something that either comes naturally or not, but it is a skill and like anything skill, can be trained and developed over time, with conscious thought and application.

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