It’s Not All About You

We’re all basically wrapped up in our own stuff. That’s not selfish or Machiavellian; it’s just a fact. Our human nature is to be self-absorbed. It’s part of our survival instinct. As a result, most people communicate from their own perspective instead of the other person’s, and that’s the leading cause of poor communication. If you want to communicate more effectively, and distinguish yourself from those around you, communicate from the other person’s point of view.

As you prepare for your meeting or conference call think about what you want to get from the meeting. The most effective way to get what you want from others it to give them what they need. Sometimes they need a quick answer. Sometimes they need a great deal of detail. Often they need to know that you have confidence in your own ideas. Sometimes, they just need to know you care about them and their ideas. Therefore, if you want to communicate more effectively, ask yourself:

  • “Why is this person reading my email?”
  • “What is she trying to learn from my presentation?”
  • “Why is he attending my meeting?”

If you ask yourself what the other person is trying to get out of the exchange, you will be more likely to:

  • Select the right information to share based on what you think the person needs,
  • Drill down to the right level of detail based on what the audience needs to do with the information, and
  • Share it in a way that allows the person to access the information easily, meaning you will eliminate your jargon.

Sharing information from the other person’s perspective also means flipping the pronouns around from “I” to “you.”

As a learning leader, you help professionals progress in their careers by focusing on where they are now and what skills they need to develop get to the next level. Often career advancement means taking on more of a leadership role, whether that’s chairing a committee, managing a division or stepping into the C-suite.

A leader takes his or her followers on a journey. How do you describe what you stand for in a manner that makes your audience want to join you on that trek? There are two steps you must consider when explaining to others the development journey on which you want them to embark. First, the message must be about how your values impact your audience, rather than you. Second, the language you use must be effortless for your audience to understand, meaning, no jargon. Simple ideas beat big words any day.

Whether your statement of values focuses on integrity, valor, street smarts or anything else, you must be able to phrase your values as being about others. Below are some common attributes of a leader, explained to an audience using both leader-centered language and audience-centered language. For politicians, the difference might sound like this:

Leader-centered language:

  • “I stand for integrity.”
  • “I want the world to be a better place.”
  • “I believe in hard work.”


Audience-centered language:

  • “You deserve someone you can trust.”
  • “Your children deserve a more just society.”
  • “You want a leader who works as hard as you do.”

Unlike political leaders who deal with matters of widespread impact, most business leaders don’t have the opportunity or need to discuss ourselves or our plans on a philosophical basis. Most of our days are less “rendezvous with destiny,” and more “committee meeting at 3 p.m.” Nevertheless, our message about ourselves remains important.

Leader-centered language:

  • “I want a better work environment.”
  • “I believe in work-life balance.”
  • “I want us to be known as the best structured finance team in the country.”


Audience-centered language:

  • “You deserve a civil, open workplace.”
  • “You want to see your kids on more than just the weekends.”
  • “You want to be part of a nationally recognized and respected team.”

In each case, by phrasing the content from the audience’s perspective, you as a leader will have a better chance to connect with your audience members and encourage them to join in the development journey.

Because we are all focused on ourselves, someone who speaks to us from our perspective rather than theirs is automatically more attractive, and we’re more likely to want to listen to their ideas. Focusing on the other person won’t always win their approval. They need to like the idea as well. But by starting from the audience’s perspective you have a better chance to be heard.


Published in Chief Learning Officer – See the article

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