The 10 Commandments of Communication
by Dr. John C. Maxwell

Can you hear it? If not, you must be able to see it… There’s an explosion currently taking place in American society, and its effects are all around us. Television. Radio. Books. Telemarketing. Video conferencing. Magazines. Newspapers. Online services. Faxes. Overnight delivery.

For the past 50 years, communication has been growing so explosively that it seems almost impossible to keep up. In fact, Kaiser Aluminum News reports that since 1955, fifty percent of the cost of running the American economy has been related to communication.

And there you are — a leader caught in the midst of this communication cyclone. No matter who your followers are, you recognize that you must find a way to communicate with them. And not just give information or talk “at” them; you need to find a way to get through to them over the din of everything else that vies for their attention. But how do you do that?

The answer lies not so much in what you say, but in how you say it. You’ve got to connect if you want to achieve true communication — the kind that reaches the heart and mind and elicits a response.

In the years I’ve been speaking to people, whether preaching the Gospel or teaching leadership principles, I’ve learned some truths about effective communication. And I’ve narrowed them down to ten “commandments.” Over the years, they’ve helped me improve my ability to connect, and I believe they can do the same for you.

1. BELIEVE IN WHAT YOU SAY.

It’s hard to get excited about someone else’s brainstorm. Only when you “own” an idea can you express a sense of urgency and passion about it. And while that’s easy when an idea begins with you, it’s more of a challenge with pieces of information that get passed down for you to share with your people. That’s when you must find something in the message that is valuable to you and them, and then express it with enthusiasm

2. BELIEVE IN THE PEOPLE TO WHOM YOU SPEAK.

All great communicators have one thing in common: They expect a lot of their audience. They believe their message has value to their listeners, and they trust people to understand and apply it to their lives or work. Because of this attitude, when they’re done speaking, the people come away saying, “This speaker really has my interests at heart and wants me to be all I can be.”

If you’re going to reach people you have to believe in them.

3. LIVE WHAT YOU SAY.

In school, many of us were taught that content was the key to effective communication. But it’s not. What is most important is credibility. When I began preaching in my first church, I often spoke on evangelism because I believed it was important. But those messages failed to produce any lasting results in the people’s hearts. Why? Because at the time, I was not doing the work of an evangelist. It was only after I made a personal commitment to winning souls that I could effectively preach on evangelism.

If you can’t own it, don’t quote it. If you don’t live it, it won’t fly.

4. KNOW WHEN TO SAY IT.

In many cases, timing really is everything. If you don’t take it into account, even the most inspired or important message can fail to reach your listeners.

For example, during times when people feel insecure (such as when layoffs have been taking place within the community), “surprise” messages are rarely received well. And calls to deep commitment in times of low morale may not work.

With any message, ask yourself what response you’re trying to elicit from your audience. Then look at the environment, attitudes, and circumstances the people are currently facing to determine whether you can expect to get that response right now. If you conclude that the timing is bad, wait. As circumstances and feelings change, your people will be more receptive, and you’ll have a better chance of succeeding.

5. KNOW HOW TO SAY IT.

Creativity can often make the difference between functional and memorable communication. Use all the tools you can to make your message interesting and memorable. Choices include plays on words, acrostics, humor, stories, etc. And avoid being too predictable. If people always know what you are about to say or how you will say it, they will stop listening.

6. KNOW WHY TO SAY IT.

One of my college professors used to tell us, “Preach for a verdict.” In other words, don’t speak if you don’t know what you want to have happen when you’re done. Always base your announcement or message on what you want your audience to do, rather than on what you want them to know. Then make sure to tell them what you want them to do next. You’d be surprised by how many leaders expect their people to apply what they’ve learned without ever being asked to do it.

7. HAVE FUN SAYING IT.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. We are all cracked pots — and the bigger the cracks, the more God’s light shines through. Make your communication fun and relaxed. And don’t be afraid to use humor.

8. SHOW IT AS YOU SAY IT.

People are very visual. Your listeners are more likely to respond when they can “see” what you’re trying to tell them. Use body language and hand gestures. Write on a board or overhead screen. Paint word pictures and use descriptive language to bring what you say to life. Any time you can conjure an image in people’s minds, your ability to get through to them increases dramatically.

9. SAY IT SO PEOPLE CAN OWN IT.

There’s no reason for people to respond to a message that doesn’t seem to be directed at them. To foster ownership in your listeners, you must include them in your communication.

Speak specifically, not hypothetically. Spell out how your message affects them personally. If people know what’s really at stake, they respond at a much higher level of commitment.

10. SAY IT SO PEOPLE WILL DO IT.

The bottom line for any communication is action. So make sure that a call for action is a part of any message you share. As you make the call, communicate the benefits your audience will receive from following through. Give them the steps they’ll need to respond. And finally, make sure that they are capable of doing what you’re calling them to do.

In today’s world, competition for the hearts and minds of people is intense. Without a strategy, you’re facing a tough battle. But by applying these “ten commandments” to your communication, I believe you can increase your effectiveness and connect with them in a positive way.

John Maxwell is the founder of INJOY, an organization dedicated to helping people maximize their personal and leadership potential. He is the author of twenty-one books, including The Success Journey, Developing the Leader Within Your, and Becoming a Person of Influence. You can visit Dr. Maxwell at his Web site: www.injoy.com.

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