noun. the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium; means of sending or receiving information, such as telephone lines or computers.
As an English teacher communication is something I think about a lot. I reflect on and scrutinise the art of reading, writing, speaking and listening. I think about not only what we communicate but how we communicate. I think about what is not said as well as what is said. I think about verbal and non-verbal communication. I think about what is over-communicated and what is under-communicated.
As a teacher of English, Drama and Media, I spent 18 years teaching children how to communicate better. But more I also taught them non-verbal communication skills. I taught them how to read facial expressions, interpret body language and analyse tone of voice. They became experts at reading me and the mood I was in, just as I did with them.
As a leader, I think carefully about communication. I believe in drip-feeding information and repeating it. As a Headteacher, my senior team and I, developed a communication model and strategy that was not perfect, but that evolved to meet the needs of our community. We had different ways of communicating about different things to different people at different times of the week. The repetition of key information, the communication of key messages and the cascade of information was something we continually revisited and reviewed. We intentionally amplified certain pieces of information.
As a new Headteacher I experienced communication overwhelm and I recruited a virtual PA to support me before our school opened. I was too accessible and I felt very exposed. I was being communicated to by lots of different stakeholders, on lots of different platforms, and I needed to streamline my communications and filter out some of the white noise to make sense of it all. My emotional state in the last week has taken me back 4 years to that same sense of overwhelm as I am pulled in all directions. I have revisited what worked then and am reviewing my communication strategy and how to make myself less accessible in my new role, working independently.
Leading on Marketing and PR as a leader in most schools I have worked in, I have also been involved in messaging for organisations but within those institutions I have consciously worked on helping people to find and use their voice. I have committed to amplifying diverse voices to ensure that we do not fall into the trap of group think. Voice and agency come down to confidence, confidence in not only having something to say, but saying something that people want to hear but also it comes down to value and the value we give ourselves but also the value we give to others. I hear a lot the self-scrutiny of “but who would want to read my tweets?” and “why would anyone want to read my blog?” Lack of self-confidence erodes our sense of self-worth and makes us question our own value.
“There is a power in words. There’s a power in being able to explain and described and articulate what you know and feel and believer, about the world, and about yourself”. Tracy Chapman
I believe everyone has a story to tell. A story worth sharing. Through the communities I have started and in which I operate, the power of storytelling and connections through stories is palpable. I joined twitter 8 years ago and I started blogging 4 years ago. Both have honed my communication skills. My voice has grown in confidence and I have become louder in what I believer. I have always been out-spoken and candid, but putting your believes in writing for others to read, or saying them out loud for others to hear tests the conviction of your words.
“Our words have power. They impact others, but they also impact us”.
I thought I would share some of the ways that my thinking about communication has evolved:
A game-changer for me in how I communicate was reading Start With Why by Simon Sinek. I have applied his simple principles ever since on how I get my message across and how I get my message heard. Moreover, I have shared this formula with others and added it as the first book on any reading list I curate for leadership courses. Most people have heard of the ‘golden circle’ and inverting leading with our what to leading with our why. The compelling hook, the conviction of our vision. Below are models he has since developed though on how to then apply this model within an organisation, and how to turn the democratic, non-hierarchal circle into a speaker to amplify the message.
As a Headteacher I was keen to create an open culture where people could show up, be authentic and voice their opinions. As a whole staff we went through Fierce Conversation training as a way of creating these conditions. The training slowly transformed the quality of conversations in our team, it gave people to be permission and honest. Susan Scott talks about cutting the noise and the clutter and getting to the heart of the matter. Expressing who we are, what we believe in, encouraging others to share their opinions and having meaningful conversations about strong emotions meant that we could confront issues with confidence and sensitivity. This in turn increased clarity and improved understanding within our team as relationships were strengthened.
My dear friend Angie Brown has started a beautiful community for women in education. She has a created a space for women to share their stories, to communicate their journeys, to share their lived experiences. She has curated two brilliant collections of personal narratives, one on #ThisIsHowWeLookWhenWeLead unpacking our leadership identity and the current one is #MotherDaughterSisterWoman exploring our relationships with other women in our lives.
Being involved in this Google Diversity and Inclusion initiative has really made me think about the stories we tell about ourselves in our professional spheres and the control we have over our narratives. The sessions encourage women and people from under-represented groups to consider the Self-Promotion Bias and how by not self-promoting ourselves, that the promotion gap between us and our peers gets bigger. Those who self-promoted, get promoted!
In my sessions I mention the Shine Theory as a way of way of helping people’s voices to be heard. It is an intentional and an accountable method for communication to raise voices and to ensure that verbal contributions in meetings are ascribed to the owner and not mis-ascribed to the loudest most dominant voices.
“I don’t shine if you don’t shine.”
Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman
As a communicator I have the voice and the agency to use my voice as an individual. However, I also believer it is really powerful to harness the power of the collective voice. As a leader, I constantly challenged by team to use the language of We, Us and Our instead of I, Me and My. We had a shared vision, a collective responsibility and were a united front, the first person plural voice instead of the first person singular voice showed that we stood together to our community, it made our voice louder and stronger.
So I invite you to consider the voices you listen to, and for the moment to do this through the lens of #BlackLivesMatter:
Who is speaking loudly with conviction and passion?
Who is being quiet and withdrawing from the conversation?
What is being said? What is not being said? How is it being said?
Are we hearing singular voices or collective voices?
Which voices are being amplified?
“Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder”.