Communication & Alignment

Communication: Vanity and Responsibility

Two concepts every communicator should understand are vanity and responsibility (you want to avoid the first and accept the second).  If you can do those two things, you’ll be well ahead of most people when it comes to effective communication, whether you’re delivering a speech, promoting a product, or talking to a friend at your kitchen table.

If you go back about 10,000 years, communication was about meeting a need to actually communicate – to signal impending danger, cry for help, or give directions.  Over time, our communication evolved to the point where we began to celebrate eloquent oratory/writing.  As you probably know, Edward Everett was the featured speaker (not President Lincoln) at the Commemoration of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Everett delivered a beautiful speech, but soon after the event, he wrote Lincoln to congratulate him on communicating in two-minutes what took Everett two-hours.  While it may be fitting that Lincoln’s short speech carried the day and stood the test of time, communication today is too often more of an exercise in vanity than in actual communication. (More Everett than Lincoln).  Leaders care too much about delivering the message (eloquence and the sound of their own voice) and too little about whether their audience actually receives it (true understanding).  The self-indulgence is palpable.

With regard to responsibility, we don’t have to go back 10,000 years; just to my days in junior high school where I learned the most important communication lesson of my life.  It wasn’t in a classroom or working for the school newspaper, but during a track meet.  To make a long story short, I typically ran the mile, but at the last meet of the year I was asked to fill-in as the third leg on our undefeated one-mile relay team.  No problem I thought.  I ran the third leg, starting slightly back in second place. By the time I was ready to pass the baton I had taken the lead. Our anchor leg was the fastest kid in the city. No way we could lose. As I was passing the baton, I felt a brief moment of excitement, until of course the baton hit the ground. So much for our undefeated season.  

After the race, I was searching for answers as to how this may have happened. The coach offered me some clarity, stating in no uncertain terms that it was my fault. The rule is that you don’t let go of the baton until you’re certain the receiver has grasped it. 

It’s hard to miss the relevance to communication.  Like it or not, the responsibility lies with those delivering the message, not those receiving it. We can’t just say, “it was in the e-mail” or “sure, it’s right there in paragraph 8.”  As leaders/communicators, we should never let go of the baton until we know that our audiences have received the message. It’s only at that point that we can relax and let them run with it.

To summarize:

  1. Communication is about actually communicating – it’s about your audience, not about you!
  2. Communication is the responsibility of the sender, not the receiver.

If you don’t believe me, take a hard look in the mirror!

Category : Communication & Alignment

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About the Author: Leo Bottary

Leo J. Bottary is an adjunct professor for two of Seton Hall University's graduate level programs in strategic communication and leadership.  Leo has enjoyed a 25-year career counseling leaders in the areas of strategic comm…

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  1. L.V. Spencer

    June 6, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the responsibility of communicating. I appreciate your thoughts about Edward Everett’s speech. I strongly support communications being short and concise. Sometime communicators think there is a direct correlation between length of a communication and the amount communicated.  They feel the longer their writings and speeches the more they have communicated. To be concise keep you your communications short and simple.

    • Thanks!  L.V., I’ve come across many clients, who when preparing or giving a presentation, didn’t care about their audience at all.  They were perfectly comfortable making people sit through their 80 PowerPoint slides whether they liked it or not.  Scary stuff.

  2. Dave Logan

    June 10, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    This is great.  Also, communication needs to actually accomplish something, rather than simply talk about stuff.

  3. Dave Logan

    June 10, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    This is great.  Also, communication needs to actually accomplish something, rather than simply talk about stuff.

    • So true!  Thanks for your comment.

  4. Nicely put, Leo, as always. Succinct and pertinent (and I cringe with embarrassed acknowledgement at the 80+ power points I use in a day in my workshops).

  5. Prime Outsourcing

    October 5, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    Very well said. I couldn’t agree more on this post. Communication is really important in one’s life. But everyone should distinguish the difference between communicating and talking. Everyone can talk, but not everyone has the capability to communicate well. We need to make sure that in whatever we do or say, we are all responsible for that.

    Thanks for the very informative post.

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