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Achieve real engagement through real communication

Essential to the toolbox of any effective leader is communication. It’s the key to achieving buy-in, reassuring employees during difficult times and engaging people with your message. Best-selling author and international speaker on business storytelling, Gabrielle Dolan, shares her thoughts on how authentic communication can help you create real engagement.

“I understand.” A short but powerful statement and one that leaders value highly. Steering the ship often entails being the bearer of either complex, confusing or challenging messages – never an easy task.

Today’s constantly shifting business environment doesn’t help either. At any given moment, companies face mergers, acquisitions, restructures or the roll-out of new systems on top of daily emails, phone calls and a bombardment of online information.

It’s no wonder engaging people with your message is an ongoing challenge. Not only do you need to cut through all the distractions but you also need to be clearly understood.

Good thing best-selling author and global thought-leader on authentic leadership, Gabrielle Dolan is here to help with three tips on how leaders can build engagement through real communication.


1. Ditch the jargon

According to Dolan real engagement results from using real words.

So why is the pull to use corporate jargon so inescapable? Dolan suspects it is because it’s a popular avoidance technique. “Company executives may refer to job losses as ‘downsizing’ or ‘rightsizing’.

“In December 2018, General Motors took this to a whole new level when they referred to the closure of five plants in the US and Canada — with a loss of up to 14,000 jobs — as being unallocated instead of saying words like ‘sack’, ‘closure’ or’ job losses’,” said Dolan.

Often though, jargon is simply a bad habit. “Many leaders use jargon as the default language, assuming everyone understands what that are saying. However, this is rarely the case.”

Whether you use it intentionally or not, jargon dramatically decreases employee engagement.


2. Avoid acronyms

Equally perplexing as jargon are acronyms. Dolan points out that acronyms enjoyed a steady rise in usage during World War II and the cold war between the US and the then Soviet Union. Its purpose: make it harder for the enemy to understand what was being communicated.

“It’s ironic that the business world loves to use a method of communication that was invented to make it harder to understand what was being said!”

Dolan adds, “Like jargon, acronyms can cause disconnection and confusion. In a worst-case scenario, overuse can result in complete misunderstanding of the message because for every acronym there are multiple interpretations.”

Avoid unnecessarily reducing phrases to acronyms where more engagement could result if you used the whole word instead.


3. Share stories

Real communication doesn’t just involve avoid bad habits, it also requires cultivating good ones. Dolan believes that sharing personal stories can have an extremely positive impact on engagement. “Research, conducted by the likes of neuroscientists, Paul Zak and Antonia Damasio, indicates that sharing stories not only increases the chances of creating an emotional connection to the message but it also strengthens the listener’s trust in what is being said and the individual saying it.”

In Dolan’s 15 years of teaching leaders the power of storytelling, strongly confirms that research. “Many leaders have testified that sharing a story increased audience understanding and engagement with the message.”

The best strategy in the world is nothing if employees and customers don’t engage with it. And how can employees and customers engage with something that they cannot understand? For those seeking to improve audience engagement – whether that’s with customers or employees – Dolan advises, “Think about how you can be more authentic in your communication to create real engagement.”


Gabrielle Dolan works with high-profile leaders, helping them to become better communicators using the art of storytelling. She is also the founder of Jargon Free Fridays. Her latest book Real Communication: How to be you and lead true, is published by Wiley.

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