By SANDY CLARKE
Editor’s note: This interview was originally recorded in 2010.
Ethan F. Becker believes the number one priority for any business that hopes to thrive in an increasingly competitive market is to create a “culture of communication” where individuals and groups are able to maximise their connection with each other.
Ethan is the current president of and senior speech coach at The Speech Improvement Company – the oldest speech communication, coaching and training firm in the United States.
Founded by his parents, Dennis and Paula Becker in 1964, the family-run business is driven by a passion to lead others on their journey to becoming effective communicators, regardless of their background or profession.
Recommended reading: The Art Of Public Speaking
Communicate to sell ideas
Speaking to Leaderonomics CEO Roshan Thiran on The Leaderonomics Show, Ethan explains that, while communication is often a skill many see as being most useful for sales professionals, the ability to communicate well is a skill that should be central to everyone’s skillset.
Whether we realise it or not, we all communicate important messages every day that help to shape our reputation and mould our personal brand. When we think about what selling means, we usually think of specific products and services that are exchanged between two or more parties.
However, many of our interactions include an element of selling: whether we’re trying to reason with someone, inform them, persuade them of an idea, or present ourselves in front of a group or an audience, we are – more often than we think – selling a particular message, with the hope that people will buy into that message.
Ethan makes an excellent point on The Leaderonomics Show that businesses often see communication as a soft skill to be considered in the aftermath of all else. As he points out, communication is central to everything that we do: done well, communication helps us to establish rapport and build long-lasting relationships.
Most of us know the confidence we feel in a person who can communicate well, while feeling somewhat unnerved by a poor communicator. Effective communication skills can often be the difference between success and failure.
Commenting on President Barack Obama’s communication style, Ethan believes the effectiveness of Obama’s communication is due to the fact that his delivery comes across as sincere, and his style is able to align with the substance of the message he’s trying to get across.
It’s often not enough to be an articulate speaker. To be an effective communicator, one needs the ability to engage their audience as well as be able to deliver substance while maintaining that engagement.
Asian vs American speakers
When asked to make a distinction between Asian and American leaders in terms of their communication styles, Ethan believes that while Asian leaders have profound messages to deliver, their style of delivery rarely changes.
Conversely, American leaders are able to change the dynamics of their presentation to get their message across more effectively. One reason for this is that – for the most part – Americans tend to learn English only, and can therefore dive deeper into creative uses of the language.
On the other hand, Asian leaders can often speak two or more languages, and so they perhaps lack the opportunity of time to get into the nuts and bolts of the English language.
A neglected hard skill
The fact that communication skills is still seen as a peripheral tool is problematic for businesses and educators alike. With business leaders in Asia and in Europe insisting that people often lack sufficient communication skills (despite being otherwise highly-skilled), it can be extremely costly across the board if investment in driving up the levels of communication skills continues to be neglected.
George Bernard Shaw once wrote that:
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
With that in mind, it drives home the importance of the ability to communicate effectively with others, to recognise that it’s a nuanced skill that goes far beyond talking to someone – a misconception many people hold when it comes to interacting and engaging with others.
You might be interested in this video: Be A Leader: Are You Listening?
Best tip for effective communication: Listen, listen, listen
Ethan says that often when we listen, we listen from our own perspective, i.e. we look for “How does what you say affect me?”
“When you’re able to listen from the other person’s perspective – which is a higher level – it’s much easier for you to gain an understanding of what the person is saying and therefore, you can craft a stronger response.
“This will make you a stronger communicator, which will affect you at a job interview, a performance review session, and generally across the board,” concludes Ethan.
Sandy is a writer who grew up with an obsession over communication and oration, often reciting historical speeches from ‘The Greatest Speeches of All Time’. To connect with Sandy, you can follow him on Twitter @RealSClarke. To engage Leaderonomics to help people in your organisation to communicate more effectively, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more The Leaderonomics Show videos, click here.
Sandy is a freelance writer based in Malaysia, and previously enjoyed 10 years as a journalist and broadcaster in the UK. He has been fortunate to gain valuable insights into what makes us tick, which has deepened his interests in leadership, emotions, mindfulness, and human behaviour.