Workshop: Command and control is history

Managers must hone their communications skills to be effective in their work.

Much of the credibility and authority of management is based on the ability to deliver results. This depends on using communication skills to influence and persuade. Command and control is out; leading from the midst is in.

This shift means managers have to put in the work to make a case. "Do because I say" carries little weight. They need to think, create a good analysis from the evidence they have collected, pose options relevant to delivering the business goals, be prepared to be challenged and put propositions to the test.

This is not easy work. Many skills are needed, and managers have to learn to be intuitive in bringing them to bear - whether in face-to-face meetings, among groups of colleagues or with external agencies.

Defining goals for these instances is vital. What do you want out of an encounter? Is it a decision, a commitment to action, consideration and reflection, or something else?

An understanding of your audience will underpin the use of the tools of persuasion. What is their interest? Do they come from a position of empathy or indifference? Answers to such questions should make managers decide on communication strategies that influence the tone and content of presentations and engagement. Get it wrong and there could be setbacks. Get it right and there are prizes to be gained. Involving peers in critiquing is good. The process helps you to consider various responses. People see the world differently and that needs to be pre-empted.

Take account of the fact that every manager has a different personality, style and comfort zone. Playing to strengths is preferable to losing your way in trying out unfamiliar or gimmicky communication methods. A personal touch, in the form of a story or humour, say, adds value to an exchange and can create empathy.

But don't let the communication methods chosen divert you or the audience from the goal, which is always to achieve the desired outcomes. Not getting them is not always due to the underperformance of the manager. Sometimes it's just the case that, no matter what you do, others can't be persuaded.

- Elaine Willis is a consultant and coach specialising in voluntary-sector management. willweb@easynet.co.uk

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