Using Strategic Communication to Earn Trust

Posted on: July 31, 2020, by :
Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash

I once worked for an executive who lacked the ability to strategically communicate. I say he lacked the ability, but perhaps saying he lacked the discipline would be more accurate. He chose to communicate in his preferred way all the time, regardless of how effective his communications were within the company. It was frustrating!

Ever the bridge builder, I was determined to help improve the situation even if what he’d said in the past left a lot to be repaired. I would witness the speeches, see emails, and cringe because I knew how they were being perceived by others. I heard what was said in the “meetings after the meetings” … you know, the ones where employees gather to share their thoughts after an executive presentation or other high-level meeting.

When I offered to help with communications, he said sure, “put something together for me and I’ll look at it.” I prepared a draft for his consideration, only to be met with “I haven’t had the chance to look at it, just tell me about it” when we met again. I walked him through the draft and then he switched the subject. Clearly, improving communication was not a priority.

Frustrating as that was, it taught me an important lesson about leadership: coaching executives who don’t see a need for improved communication isn’t a lost cause. Executives can improve their communications, motivate others, and positively impact organizational performance.

Whether you want to improve your communication or not, you should know how strategic communication can be used to help earn trust. At some point, you will most likely recognize the value of improved communication and you will need to be more strategic to earn trust, build coalitions, and sell your ideas.

Here are six steps I’ve seen used effectively during my 30-plus year career to earn trust using strategic communication.

Understand your different audiences.

During my time advising executives on communication practices, I had a basic rule: Don’t decide everything you’re going to say until you define your audiences. The goal wasn’t to avoid finalizing the communication but instead to make sure the executive fully understood who they would be communicating with and how that could influence their plans. I encourage you to do the same. Don’t develop detailed plans unless you understand the groups you will be interacting with—your reputation is at stake with your boss, your peers, your employees, and possibly your customers.

Use multiple channels to reach different audiences.

Most communication can be categorized as formal or informal. The category influences which channels are most appropriate to deliver your messages. A multitude of communication channels exist with the appropriateness of using each depending upon your audience, culture, and intent. Equally important are your skill and comfort levels with delivering the messages. Strategic messaging usually stems from the executive team or organization’s leadership.

Use storytelling to connect with others.

You need to understand the power of storytelling. The first and most important communication strategy for leaders when it comes to earning trust is storytelling. I’m talking about earning trust, not assuming trust. Trust is not gained through position power; it’s earned through interactions and communication. And storytelling enables employees to believe in new circumstances enough to take action even when doing so makes them uncomfortable.

Leaders need the support of employees and employees need to trust in their leaders.

Effective storytelling engages both the hearts and minds of employees and motivates them to take action. Emotional and intellectual buy-in and support are critical to leader effectiveness. Research has proven that storytelling affects the brain by enabling listeners to connect the ideas presented to their own experiences, making the communication more personal. When listeners hear a compelling story that evokes emotion, the brain releases dopamine which helps the individual remember the communication more accurately and for longer periods of time.

If employees can relate to your message, you’ve got their attention. If not, you might be wasting your time. So, before you schedule to present to employees, answer the question: How likely is it my story will resonate with employees? If you can’t answer the question, you’re not ready to give the presentation.

Give speeches to inspire others.

In my experience, one main reason leaders miss opportunities to connect with large groups of employees is because they are unprepared to give powerful speeches. As a result, their presentations fall flat, leaving employees uninspired and disconnected. This can be even more obvious when the previous leader was charismatic and connected easily with others through powerful speeches.

Craft your speech in a way so it repeatedly evokes emotion purposefully throughout, beginning with a story that helps the audience connect with you on a personal level. Start being relatable in the very beginning, which is easier once you understand your audience and their needs and concerns. Weave in humor, or share frustration, surprise or other emotion as appropriate and repeat words and phrases that you want remembered a minimum of three times.

Share your message, the rationale for your organization’s actions, and why it matters. Speak to the financial impact or other consequences, as appropriate. Demonstrate the impact in ways employees will understand. Explain what is, what can be, and describe how it can be in the future. Don’t hesitate while giving your speech, pause intentionally instead. Be honest, and if you can’t presently share all details, let them know that this is what you can share now and that you’ll share more when possible.

Use symbols to garner support.

Symbols represent shared values or assumptions. They are also intended to influence behavior by helping others recall values and norms. They are physical indicators of organizational life and culture. Symbols serve as reminders of shared experiences and history. Most symbols take on meaning by being part of significant moments in organizational history.

Symbols can be seen or heard. They can also be places, gestures, or clothing. Use symbols regularly, but selectively. Work with your team to ensure they are used appropriately to reinforce culture and celebrate organizational progress and history. Doing so can show your appreciation for the sentiments the symbols represent.

Use ceremonies to reinforce culture.

When you bring people together in a room you are ready to make human connections. Ceremonies can help you communicate your messages in compelling ways, whether they involve celebrating successes, announcing new directions, or launching new initiatives. Ceremonies are appropriate times to help others let go of the past and embrace the future. This can be an effective way to recognize the symbolic passing of a torch from one leader to another. They can also give individuals opportunities to embrace change or publicly commit to a cause or initiative. Ceremonies can also be used to help organizations heal or celebrate wins. Every ceremony is an opportunity to connect with others and earn trust.

Most people have one thing in common: they can be unsettled by change. When trying to earn trust, being genuine is everything. Don’t surprise employees by sharing with them that you want to earn their trust, just pursue it instead. Work with your executive team to plan which communication activities you will pursue. Commit to doing the disciplined work of implementing a strategic communications plan. More often than not, you’ll be glad you did!

conference room without people

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