The language of power: communication tips from CEOs

Communication can have an enormous impact on our success in the workplace, even for CEOs. Pete Wise discovers how best to approach this area

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How we communicate can have an immense impact on the way colleagues and clients respond to us in a workplace setting

Never underestimate the importance of communication. Whether in business negotiations, in boardroom discussions, or in representing a brand to press and public, a CEO will be continually defined by words, which have to be chosen carefully.

As it happens, many CEOs think deeply about this subject. European CEO speaks to five chief executives from a variety of sectors to find out how they’ve modified their use of language to woo clients, build rapport, and even dissuade colleagues from treating them as superiors alone. These are their top tips:

Michael Chuter, CEO, Pump Aid

Talk yourself down to encourage people to talk freely

“A problem of being CEO is people sometimes apply a deference akin to meeting the Queen,” says Michael Chuter, Chief Executive of the Malawian water charity Pump Aid. “They self-edit.”

His classically British tactic for getting people to talk to him on the level? A spot of good, old-fashioned self-deprecation.

Michael says: “I start each meeting by talking myself down! By mentioning mistakes I’ve made doing whatever it is we’re discussing, I can encourage colleagues to talk freely.”

This leads, according to the Pump Aid CEO, to a freer flow of ideas and opinions.

John White, Director, We Run

Choose your words carefully for more powerful communications

As Director of the largest running coach network in the UK, we can safely assume John White knows a thing or two about motivating people. He claims he packs maximum power into his communications by choosing his words carefully.

“This may sound trite, but replacing words with negative or neutral associations for words with stronger, more positive associations can be very powerful,” says John.

“‘Problems’ become challenges, ‘employees’ become team members, ‘targets’ become goals.”

John suggests this approach may be especially useful in written communication, where tone and body language are not available to help get the message across.

Daniel Rowles, CEO, Target Internet

Storytelling is key to helping people retain new concepts

Digital marketing coach Daniel Rowles spends much of his time teaching new concepts to people on every rung of the corporate ladder, from absolute beginners to blue-chip execs. Daniel says the key to getting just about any of his students to absorb new ideas is narrative.

“Storytelling is key as it piques interest, drives engagement and improves retention,” says Daniel. “For example, making people understand the importance of processes in social media is one thing; but telling them a story about a series of social media disasters is a lot more effective. And generally speaking, the funnier the better!”

Richard Mifsud, CEO, Kootac

Use emotive communication to get clients to believe in your company’s offering

Maltese iGaming CEO Richard Mifsud identifies emotive language as a deal-breaking factor in his pitches to clients. “Emotive communication can help get prospective business partners and clients to believe in and commit to my company’s offering”, he says.

Richard’s company Kootac and its brands sell lottery products and services to both B2B and B2C clients. He says using emotive language surrounding the major prizes – historic and future – his lotteries offer is crucial to winning over either group.

“Expressing how a product can change the customer’s life for the better doesn’t just help me convince B2B clients of the product’s quality – it also gives them an indication of its B2C marketability.

“By effectively pitching the product to the B2B client, we show them how we’ll pitch it to the customer.”

Sarah Kauter, Director, VerriBerri

Lose the fluff to remove potential for confusion and misunderstanding

Our CEOs have covered some colourful strategies over those last four points – self-deprecation, storytelling, emotive language and powerful word choices – but in some cases, the best policy of all is to keep things simple. Marketing and PR company Director Sarah Kauter believes this is especially true in a day-to-day operational environment:

“Communicating with your team in a direct manner (essentially losing the fluff) yields better results, as it gets to the point and removes the potential for confusion and misunderstanding. This is true whether you are giving instructions or discussing a project.”