Being a business owner can be a lonely journey. And I will admit, there have been hundreds of times in the past year where I have questioned whether starting my own business was the right choice. When I was a college professor, I had the advantage of working with the same students for an entire semester. I could witness their growth and celebrate the milestones with them. It’s very different being a communication consultant from being a communication professor.
I don’t think my goals or values have changed though. The one thing that continues to drive me is the desire to make a difference. I get a great sense of fulfillment from helping others find the confidence to use their voice while helping them develop skills to use their voice effectively. As a communication skills coach, I do this by going into organizations and working with the workforce. Sometimes I’m hired to help employees learn how to adapt to diverse communication styles. Sometimes I’m hired to help managers learn how to give feedback effectively. Sometimes I’m hired to help a team learn how to manage conflict effectively. And sometimes I’m hired to help a group learn how to become a team.
All these pieces of training have communication at the core. And like I always say, communication is a skill just like any other skill. It takes time, effort, and practice to get better at it. Getting better at it is something I could observe with my own eyes and ears over time through the course of a semester when I was teaching at the college level. I can also get that sense of improvement over time when I work with individual clients, like when I help them with their public speaking skills. This is something that happens over time, through multiple meetings.
I don’t have that kind of time with the average business client, however. I typically have a few hours to work with a group of employees, so I pack a lot in a short amount of time. I use the same process I used when I would prepare lessons for my college kids. Begin with the end in mind and work from there.
The challenge is knowing whether I’m truly helping to make a difference.
And this brings me to a recent experience I had working with an organization that helps provide care to children and families who are in distress and have experienced trauma. The work these people do is incredibly important. Helping children heal so they can grow and thrive is perhaps the noblest of causes I can think of. Perhaps that’s because their vision aligns with my own – to help others become empowered to thrive.
I worked with one group of staff members on conflict management and then with a group of teachers on adapting communication styles. As I drove home, I kept thinking about the work they do and what an important role they play in these children’s lives. I felt privileged that I could be a part of that journey and I felt concerned about whether I was helping to make a difference.
I got my answer in an email that simply stated, “Thanks, Jen. Everyone raves about your training and wants you to come back for more. You are making an impact here and I appreciate it.”
It’s the second sentence that’s the most important for me. Making an impact. Y’all, my heart is full!
So what is the lesson here? If you seek to have a purpose, to do something that is meaningful, to keep the goal in mind, to remain audience-centered, then the rest will take care of itself. As a communication skills coach, I have lots of tools and tricks I can pass along and package in a way that would totally keep the focus on me. That would not be very fulfilling. And that’s not what effective communication is about.
Effective communication is about creating shared meaning. Delivering a message to your audience in a way that they can get it. Putting your own ego in the back seat and putting the needs of your audience in the front. Begin with the end in mind and do it in a way that adds value for them. If you approach communication in this way, I guarantee you will make an impact.