CEOs Need to Learn the Language of Collaboration

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This article first appeared on CEO World Magazine on 4/10/2020

Call me a serial entrepreneur and I’ll take it as a compliment. Since 2000 I’ve founded three companies — I’ve been a C-Suite executive at all three, and a CMO at a fourth, and these experiences have taught me a lot about communication, both internal and external. But what I want to discuss in this article is internal communication, and I don’t mean newsletters and communiques from your HR department. I’m talking about how you talk to your people, what I call the language of collaboration.

If you’re a CEO, the best advice I can give you is this: think about using what I call the language of collaboration whenever you communicate with your team. The language of collaboration isn’t just the language we use, what we say also conveys non-verbal messages. We often spend so much time worrying about how to say something or how to write it down, that we make ourselves oblivious to our non-verbal cues. We also lose sight of how we should be thinking of the result and the product of our communication. In other words, you are communicating with your team, your managers and your employees to achieve results. This should give you pause. What are you saying? How are you saying it? What will what you’ve said ultimately help your team achieve?

How about when you start a sentence with, “I’m not saying this as a criticism, but…,” the person to whom you were speaking simply heard you criticizing him or her. And how about this old warhorse: “I’m not saying I have all the answers”, which means you probably think you do!

Can you think of the last time you wanted to say something but you held back? What did it sound like? How was it received? Your audience’s reaction will often reveal the intention behind your communication, even if your words have camouflaged some of it.

Be clear about what you want to say and how you want to say it, but please find a way to be as kind as you are direct. True leadership is always an invitation, not a command. Keep your organizational goals in mind, and make sure to communicate your desire to achieve them and your belief that they are achievable! The language of collaboration starts with a CEO who always operates with a clear understanding of organizational direction, and can communicate this direction clearly and succinctly.

The personal touch is also the best way to kickstart collaboration. Even though everything these days seems to be accomplished via email, Asana, Slack, Trello, etc., even though everyone is staring into a smartphone and communicating via SMS and emoji, there’s still no substitute for a face-to-face conversation, a quick coffee, lunch…the best way to inspire collaboration is to make it personal, to be connected. It’s important to make people feel valued and included. Creating a positive environment and a collaborative and warm atmosphere is the best way to get the best out of your people. It may sound like a cliché, but it starts with a conversation. Once that conversation has started, it’s your job to keep it going.

Where you’re coming from — your commitment, your energy — has more to do with what your audience hears than you might think. When you’re impassioned and truly present, people feel it; when you welcome new ideas, people sense it. You can’t help anyone shift his or her paradigm unless you shift yours first. Collaboration starts as a mindset, then it becomes language, an ongoing conversation, successful cooperation and achievement.

What you want to achieve is evolution. You want your organization to adapt and evolve, to weather all challenges, take on all comers…the only way to do that is to help you teams evolve, collectively and individually. Look no further than Charles Darwin for guidance here: “It is the long history of humankind — and animal kind, too — that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” Want to prevail? Start speaking the language of collaboration and see where it can take you.

Written by

Scott Hirsch is an internet marketing pioneer who is widely recognized as an expert in ecommerce, digital data and the online marketplace.

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