Elite Communications Skills as a Competitive Advantage, Think Clearly and Communicate Concisely with Joe McCormack

In a noisy world with so many distractions pulling us in different directions, it is easy to get lost and not make sense of what people are trying to communicate. This is true for both the person listening and the one being listened to. Listening with purposeful intention and saying the most important things first helps communication be clear and concise, having more impact.

Joe McCormack is on a mission to help organizations master lean communication. In an age of shrinking attention spans, non-stop interruptions, and floods of information our messages are getting lost in a sea of words.

An experienced marketing executive, successful entrepreneur, and author, Joe is recognized for his work in narrative messaging and strategic communications. His book, “BRIEF: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less” (Wiley, 2014) tackles the timeliness of the “less is more” mandate. Because even expert communication can be thwarted by an audience that has lost the capacity to pay attention, he follows up with a pragmatic guide to managing a distraction-filled environment in “NOISE: Living and leading when nobody can focus” (Wiley, 2020).

He speaks at diverse industry and client forums on the topics of brevity, storytelling, change and leadership. A passionate leader, he founded The BRIEF Lab in 2013 after years dedicated to developing and delivering a unique curriculum on executive communications for U.S. Army Special Operations Command (Ft. Bragg, NC). He actively counsels military leaders and senior executives on effective, efficient communication and produces a weekly podcast series called “Just Saying”.

In this episode, Joe shares how to listen and how to speak so that our communication has more impact, especially in an environment of information overload and time-pressure. Being prepared to communicate (he shares how!) and deciding to get interested in what you are about to hear, not just choosing what you want to hear makes all the difference.. As you get interested, you become interesting, because people who listen well are interesting.

“Listening is like seeing; it’s purposeful listening versus general listening.” – Joe McCormack

Listening SUPERPOWER podcast Notes:

00:20 – The time Joe started noticing the power of listening: You can’t summarize what you didn’t hear. You visit a conference and are asked afterwards, “Well, what did they talk about?” If you didn’t hear it, you can’t summarize it. And that triggered in me: How am I listening at that moment so that I can provide the summary? 

01:27 – Joe shares examples of summarizing based on listening with purpose when having conversations with clients: As you talk to people a lot, you have to sit down and write down notes at the end of those moments. Listening well makes writing notes easier.

03:16 – Listening “Aha moments”: If you think about journalists, they’re professional listeners. Their job is to listen, but they’re listening for a story. Their listening is very intune.

05:22 – Listening for the story boils down to: “If you had to create a headline or a title of the story, when you listen, you’re listening for the title. You have a purpose now; the why you listen.” 

08:38 – What makes listening fun and interesting: If you’re listening to something interesting, it’s easy. And if you look at listening to something as complicated and messy and confusing it makes listening very difficult. 

10:42 – Being interested versus being interesting: Think about how many people you know that are really good listeners; that list is very, very small. If you could be one of those people, you’re immediately one of the most interesting people. 

18:12 – How to get those in higher positions to listen to us: “I’m saying the most important thing first, and that’s managing his or her listening at that moment, right away.”

20:40 – The most surprising thing people find when Joe does training: Nobody’s listening to them. Leaders in different positions of authority and responsibility think they’re clear communicators. But if you talk to the people they’re communicating with, very few of them find them interesting and clear.

22: 58- Making more collaborative moments in meetings: I love meetings that are designed in advance with an agenda. They’re great conversations about important topics.

25:28 – The yearning for time to think: It’s like an appointment like any other appointment, going to the dentist; you schedule the appointment for 10 minutes. Think about that thing for 10 minutes. And then you’re done. 

28:40 – Helping people to listen to you with ease: Let a person know what you’re talking about while telling them what they need to do. And then, the conversation can be clearer and shorter. If you do that, you’ve just managed the person’s listening.

36:47 – Advice he would give his younger self: “You can practice this [listening] every day with people without them even knowing; it’s not just a work thing. It’s a life thing.”

38:15 – Big takeaway for listeners:  Listening is a gift best given in the moment.

Key Takeaways:

“When you start to listen to conversations like you’re a journalist, imagine if, at the end of a conversation, you had to write a story about the conversation. Your listening is different.” – Joe McCormack

“People enjoy conversations when people are listening. But often, they don’t listen because they have no purpose to what they’re listening for.” – Joe McCormack

“If you’re talking too much, and you’re unclear, it makes listening very difficult.” – Joe McCormack

“When you give a purpose [to listening], it doesn’t make it easy. It makes it easier.” – Joe McCormack

“It’s a part of your professional responsibility to listen because your colleagues, your boss, your customers…are telling you things. But you’re not even listening because you don’t feel like it? The decision to be interested is a decision more than a feeling.”  – Joe McCormack

“You have to make sure that you prepare before you communicate.” – Joe McCormack

Notes / Mentions:

  • Quiet Works: https://thequietworkplace.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Quiet-Works-Position-Paper.pdf
  • Noise: https://thebrieflab.com/noise/
  • Brief: https://thebrieflab.com/book_brief/

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