Friday, 15 October 2010

Steering the right course in communications

Communication is key in many sports but rowing is quite unique in the way athletes have to respond. It’s an endurance team sport where the sense of feeling is as important as speaking or visual stimuli.

But the role of the coxswain, or cox, is probably unique. In such a physical sport, you have a team member who is meant to be inactive, light and an excellent communicator. Many who don’t know the sport don’t understand what role this steersman has.

It echoes the role communications professionals have in business. Little understand and seen as periphery but at the same time communications have the ability to make or break a company at key times. Yes, the business might be able to run effectively in the short turn, but a change in socio-economic climate, a crisis or just the ability to make consumers grasp a concept.

Coxing is the same, a crew may have the best athletes but a cox can galvanise the crew to perform above their potential, keep them from reaching breaking point or bring a disorganised crew back together yet rarely are they noticed for their role.
So what learning points can you take from coxing.

The misconception is the belief it’s about shouting and controlling. Good coxing is about silence and timing – the understanding that white space on a page being as important as the text.

It’s easy to give instruction constantly, it’s difficult to take in the information around you, assess it and wait for the right time to make a comment.

Language is important. To motivate, your vocabulary has to be positive yet firm enough to deal with any issues that arise. It also has to fit in with the individual crew, which means a lot of hard work has to happen off the river to work out the character of a group.

Communications professionals spend plenty of time reading papers, magazines, social media streams, listening to the radio and watching TV just doing that.
Coxes have to give coaching advice about technique they might not be able to do themselves with the confidence of their crew, understanding the business of rowing.

Communications professionals often have to give advice about products and services without having an understanding of the business they are dealing with – but they have a different perspective either as a customer, a journalist or even just as an outsider. Without confidence in our ability, it would be difficult to persuade companies to take our advice.

To recap:

1. Shouting hardly ever works, yet silence can have its own effect.
2. Timing is everything.
3. Selecting the right words and language is vital.
4. Understanding your environment, colleagues and business is an ongoing process.
5. Confidence in your key message or belief needs to be at the heart of you communications

If you do all these things, you might just steer a straight course.

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