You’re a communicator. Communicating is what you do every moment, with every fibre of your being.
If you manage a team or run a business, every person in that group is also communicating in every moment.
Communication happens inside people, between people, and with the outside world - and it can be easy to get hung up on how those different types of communication fit together.
Many organisations create a distinction between internal and external communication, as if some magic wall separates the two. And if you’re like me, you might have spent countless hours exploring your inner communication - the thoughts in your own head that impact your business and personal life.
I find it helpful to consider that communication happens in three realms.
The Personal Realm
Put simply, this is the communication you have with yourself, and this is where it all starts. Your thoughts and beliefs are the engine room of every other interaction in your life.
Often this school of thought is put, slightly disparagingly, under the "personal development" heading. Some might consider your inner dialogue has little to do with business and professional communication. On the other hand, I believe it's critical.
The communication you have with yourself is the most telling factor for how you communicate with everyone else. This is where your confidence (or lack of it) lies. It determines your level of self-belief. It impacts your tone of voice, how you carry yourself, the firmness of your handshake and the authenticity of your eye contact.
You might already subscribe to the concept your thoughts are all-powerful and create your reality - or perhaps you’ve never recognised the direct link between what goes on inside you and how you relate to the outside world. If you want to be a better communicator, start here.
The personal communication realm is the place of self-reflection, where you can become quiet and tune in to your intuition. If this sounds a bit too woo-woo for your comfort, I’d like you to entertain the notion - even for a day - that the communication within you has a profound impact on how you interact with others on a personal and professional level.
This is also significant for anyone managing a team or organisation. Any time you need buy-in, it starts one mind at a time.
And, the personal communication realm is where you get clarity on your own vision. That's not the same as the vision of your business or organisational (although it needs to fit snugly with it or you might be working in the wrong place). Being clear on what gets you out of bed in the morning (your why as Simon Sinek puts it) powers up your actions every day.
A dysfunctional personal communication realm means lack of clarity, flailing confidence, poor interactions and relationships - and lost opportunities.
The Tribal Realm
Many organisations refer to this realm as internal communication. I prefer to see it as communicating with those who have the greatest potential to impact or be impacted by your actions or those of your organisation.
In a business sense. this is likely to mean your staff, suppliers and other key stakeholders. For a solo entrepreneur it’s the key circle of people around your business that matter most. For all of us, it also means family and close friends.
In the tribal realm of communication, we can take shortcuts in our language because the people in our tribe generally understand who we are and what we do. We can make some assumptions about previous knowledge, we're able to get away with some jargon, and our style is generally more familiar.
Our tribal realm is where we get to harness the power of our own reputation ambassadors. The people closest to you and your organisation have high credibility when talking about you to others. In this age of digital message saturation, you can talk all you like about how wonderful your organisation is - but everyone’s heard it all before and everybody else is saying the same thing about what they do. What cuts through more is the quiet endorsement of those with a genuine knowledge of what you do - especially those who are highly relatable to your audience.
The downside is, the interactions of your tribe also directly reflect on you. If they’re saying and doing things that aren’t so positive, that will come back to hurt you. Your tribal communication needs to be constant, transparent and early.
Monitoring the communication in your tribal realm provides invaluable intelligence about your broader reputation. And while your reputation is out of your control, you can at least take steps - through authentic words and actions that match - to build reputation capital.
The Global Realm
This realm represents your communication with the rest of the world; what scholars describe as the public sphere. Of course, these days we are each a 24/7 broadcasting channel and it's easy to get fixated on the opportunities that presents. I’m called in to work with many organisations that focus solely on what they’re saying in this public realm, but neglect the communication happening within their own walls, between and within their people.
Outstanding communicators - and those few businesses that communicate at the top of their game - understand the link between the three realms. What they say to the world at large is directly aligned with the messages inside their organisation and with those who matter most to their results. Their people are deeply committed to their values, and this is reflected in the personal realm of those individuals.
Today, we have glorious opportunities to communicate with anyone, with relative ease. We’ve also never been at more risk of having our shortcomings exposed to a global audience. The global realm is rich in both potential and danger, and it's imperative to approach it with a clear strategy. Otherwise your days will be filled with time-consuming, reactive behaviour, often referred to as firefighting.
Are you putting enough focus on all three realms - or do you spend most of your time in one or two at the expense of another?
As technology continues to march forward, career opportunities will disappear as new ones arise. Communicators of excellence will continue to have an advantage. Build your expertise across all three realms and your communication will be unstoppable.