COMMUNICATION is often more about consequences and less about content. Its greater purpose is to influence and inspire.

Thus, a simple piece of advice for all: Pay more attention to how people actually respond to what you say, and less attention to what you have actually said.

For instance, do they feel motivated or demotivated by your comments, encouraged or disgusted by your mannerisms, and respected or disrespected by your opinions?
In the end, communication is a battle — or balance— between sensitivity and substance, between emotional intelligence and analytical intelligence.

Learn from Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln is usually regarded as one of America’s best presidents. Historians attribute his success to, among other things, his communication skills.

Yes, it is not just leadership skills, strategic acumen or intelligence that makes one a great president. It also has a lot to do with the person’s ability or inability to communicate well.

There are many accounts of Lincoln’s admirable communication skills. There are stories of how he managed to quell hostile conflicts (among his generals and senior staff members) with tact, reach out to even the most strong-headed opponents and motivate an army experiencing very low morale.

When asked about his secret, Lincoln’s reply was elegantly simple: “I spend two-thirds of the time thinking what (people) want to hear and one-third thinking about what I want to say.”

In a nutshell, a large component of communication must include consideration for the feelings and views of your audience.

For most people, the opposite seems to be true.

We often spend one-third of the time thinking about how to counter people’s arguments, one-third thinking about how to correct their knowledge, and the last third thinking about how to convince them of our superiority.

In a nutshell, for most people, communication consists primarily of achieving their private goals and fulfilling their instinctual need for respect.

Sadly, communication is still the most commonly misused tool for self-glorification.

It is not difficult to observe people parading their knowledge, their achievements and their connections with the rich and famous.

Many people have a strong tendency to disagree, give advice, add on to people’s views or counter their reasoning, all to satisfy their subconscious desire to be seen as smart.

Win people over

The reality is that people are least likely to adore a person with a heightened sense of self-importance (when was the last time you admired a person who boasted about how smart he was?), or one who is inclined to ridicule (have you ever liked a person who tells you how stupid you are?).

Many executives I talked to agree that communication at the workplace is still largely sub-optimal, if not outright primitive.

Managers continue to talk down to their subordinates, chief executive officers overrate their effectiveness, professors amplify their achievements, and colleagues often disparage and discourage one another.

There is an old English proverb that goes like this: “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.”

In other words, it is useless to argue your point or express your knowledge — even if you are correct, and with whatever level of conviction you can summon — if you have yet to win the person’s esteem. You will be just wasting your time.

Ineffective communication can have serious consequences in the workplace: It has been shown to lead to poor staff performance and low morale.

There is no single recipe for effective communication, no one blueprint to tell you what you should say at any given moment.

There are only guiding principles, one of which is to always communicate with the goal of encouraging people to achieve positive outcomes.

If you can do that, you will be influential and inspiring.