Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

A young man, fresh from receiving his MBA, went back to visit his old college professor to ask him a question that had always puzzled him. He asked, “What do you think is the most important quality for someone who wants to become a business leader?”

The professor answered without hesitation: “The ability to communicate.”

He added: “The leader who can’t communicate can’t create the conditions that motivate, and the genius who can’t communicate is intellectually impotent. The organization that can’t communicate can’t change, and the organization that can’t change is dead.”

My good friend, Nido Qubein, president of High Point University, shared the above example with me, emphasizing that communication is the most basic and crucial leadership skill.

Mark McCormack, the late founder of International Management Group, now IMG, and a writer, said something similar: “A manager’s personal style – how good he or she is at exchanging information – contributes more to a department’s efficiency than the results of any structured or organizational brilliance.”

Warren Buffett, one of the most successful businesspersons in the world, maintains, “If you improve your communication skills, I will guarantee you that you’ll earn 10% to 50% more money over your lifetime.”

The word communication comes from the Latin word communico, meaning share. We share ideas, thoughts, information and concerns. Communication can start friendships or make enemies.

Communication requires both effective sending and receiving. And if we don’t do it effectively, we have wasted our time.

As a business owner, author and speaker, I constantly preach that clear communication is of utmost importance. Communication needs to be understandable. Confusion is bad for business.

In other words, don’t leave your audience with the feeling that I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.

Research psychologists tell us that the average one-year-old child has a three-word vocabulary. At age two, most children have a working knowledge of 272 words. A year later, that number more than triples. At age six, the average child has command of 2,562 words.

As adults, our word accumulation continues to grow but the effective use of them does not necessarily follow. We can speak up to 18,000 words each day, but that doesn’t mean those messages are clear or correctly received. In fact, words can often obscure our messages instead of clarifying them.

Don’t confuse using big words or technical jargon with sounding more intelligent. The opposite is often true – rather than impressing people with your fancy speech, you run the risk of confusing others by putting the emphasis on the language instead of the message. The central ideas get lost. Fancy language does not equate with clarity.

It is nearly impossible to succeed in business, or in life, without developing good communication skills. From time to time, re-evaluate your performance in these fundamental areas: speaking, listening, writing, leading meetings and resolving conflict.

When speaking, ask if there are questions about what you said. Ask “Was that clear?” or “Does that make sense?” Invite your audience to restate what you said and listen to their perception of your message. If you hear something other than what thought you said, use other words.

Listening involves so much more than hearing the words the other person says. Watch for signals, ask for clarification if needed, and repeat or rephrase their message if in doubt.

Writing often presents opportunities to review your communication before you share the final product with others. I have a “kitchen cabinet” of trusted associates whose opinions I seek when preparing my columns and books. If the writing is not clear, potentially offensive or could be interpreted differently than I intended, they are sworn to challenge me.

Leading meetings requires organization and discipline. Prepare an agenda so you can keep on topic and not waste time. A final recap is a good reminder of any decisions or actions that need to be accomplished.

Resolving conflict often requires combining all the above communication skills.

Effective communication is a necessity for every occupation I can name.

The geography teacher was lecturing on map reading. After explaining about latitude, longitude, degrees, and minutes, the teacher asked, “Suppose I asked you to meet me for lunch at 23 degrees, 4 minutes north latitude and 45 degrees, 15 minutes east longitude?”

After a long silence, a student answered, “I guess you’d be eating alone.”

Mackay’s Moral: Choose what you say instead of saying what you choose.

About the Author

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.