Welcome to this week’s blog where I cover yet another often ignored and perhaps, equally maligned aspect of career development — the importance of cultivating an appropriate “image” in career growth — more specifically, a conscious approach to communication in this building and maintaining the right image.
Communication — the human connection — is the key to personal and career success. — Paul J. Meyer
Before delving into the topic, let me introduce you to how the human brain manages its communication with various parts of the body. One would think the brain communicates via synaptic connections among neurons by way of passing neurotransmitters (chemicals) from one neuron to the next in the chain via its dendrite-axon connection; the next neuron is programmed to react to the specific neurotransmitter in a certain way. These reactions are programmed into the very essence of the neuron cells. This mode of communication lends a high degree of confidence and consistency in the flow of information. Confidential information can be reliably sent across these neuron chains given their 1–1 mode of flow. Despite these advantages, there is one glaring disadvantage to this method. It is not suited for broadcasting communication. If information is to be sent to multiple organs simultaneously and quickly (for example in “flight or fright” situations), this 1–1 method is definitely not suitable. So, nature has evolved another method for such communication. This other (for simplicity, let me call it “1-Many” as opposed to “1–1”) method is done via the release of hormones. Apparently, the Hypothalamus (a small part of the brain that sits at its bottom) has a private circulatory network with the pituitary gland — into which it releases specific chemicals which are picked up by the pituitary gland and it accordingly releases a corresponding set of hormones into the general circulatory system of the body…. These hormones will, in turn, invoke other glands — let’s say, the adrenal gland prompting it to release adrenaline and prompt the pancreas to inhibit the release of insulin and a host of other hormonal releases and inhibitions. This way, body gets primed for situations such as “flight or fright” action. I learned all this from a book called “Why Zebras don’t get ulcers” by Robert Sapolsky (one of my most favourite science writers and certainly most favourite evolutionary Biologist).
This grossly simplified view of how brain manages its communication can serve as a mental model to evolve our own conscious communication strategy — specifically as it relates to cultivating the desired image in the pursuit of building strong careers.
This communication strategy can also be applied to nurturing strong personal relationships (with friends and family), positioning your businesses, etc
“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky
For maintaining relationships, getting the intended action out of someone, or dealing with a specific person’s performance concerns, 1–1 communication is a great mode.
For broadcasting information, cultivating broad-based credibility, giving applause, motivating and rallying teams, a 1-Many should be the default mode.
One has to consciously think about the physical mode of communication as well, whether it is going to be in person, or via video or audio calls or by email or by instant messenger or via memos or blogs, or white papers or writing books or creating audio and/or visual podcasts.
How about the length of the message? How would you present yourself? What kind of clothes do you wear? (think Zelenskyy of Ukraine — wearing his military green half-sleeved t-shirts — whether I personally care for his presentation, which I don’t, is beside the point, but I would think this is his conscious strategy to appease/influence his key stakeholders in the war).
Then we have the ubiquitous power point presentations — are you creating a PPT as a prop for your actual presentation or a package to be distributed to your audience so that they can take it away and refer to it later. For effective presentations, the ideal situation would be not to have a ppt at all.
“Communication works for those who work at it.” — John Powell
Simple language is always better. Fewer pertinent visuals/graphs are better than too many visuals with interesting but not very relevant information — of course, you will have to weigh this against the needs of the audience. Most mid-senior management would like to get their hands on this adjacent not-very-relevant information — this kind of information increases their chances to comment and sound intelligent. However, executive management typically prefers sharp insights around the topic of interest which would help them arrive at decisions quickly. Clear and specific expectations from them is also something they will appreciate.
And then there are mentor-mentee relationships, panel discussions, fireside chats, and meetings with coaches. Whether you are the subject of the agent of these events, how you approach them is critical for maximizing value for you from these interactions. More than a perfect strategy, goal should be a conscious strategy aimed at effectiveness, dynamism and constant improvement.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” — George Bernard Shaw
A strategic approach to the use of this plethora of communication possibilities and formats can go a long way in positioning yourself for success.
To reiterate, personal image cultivation is required to establish and reinforce your expertise (capability and capacity) in the appropriate ecosystem in order to support and strengthen your ability to create progressively larger value as you progress in your career (or personal relationships or growth of your business etc). Hence the need for consciously developing a communication strategy is imperative for positioning yourself and creating enabling support system.
“You never know when a moment and a few sincere words can have an impact on a life.” — Zig Ziglar
I will follow up on this broad brush on this important topic with more blog posts to elaborate on some of the larger sub-topics.
Thanks for taking time to read this article. In this newsletter, I share my learnings that could help you improve your decisions and make meaningful progress on your goals and desires. I share stuff that I have personally experienced or experimented with. If you find this newsletter worthwhile, please do share it with others — of course, only if you do not mind it.
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