The Standing Taller Series: Communicating with Influence

 In Culture, Demand Spring Culture, Professional Development

Gregor Jeffrey is the unlikeliest of communication experts. For many years, communication was THE thing that held Gregor back from continued progression in his career.

After starting his career in the Canadian defence sector, Gregor worked in Vancouver’s high-tech sector and Silicon Valley. As a strategy consultant in England, France and Spain he supported international teams on major projects for the UK Ministry of Defence and NATO Special Forces.

Gregor’s own leadership challenges led him to an intensive study of the science of influence. In 2014 he discovered a link between cognition and communication that clearly proves why so many of us struggle to present, write and listen effectively.

He has used this research to become a leading consultant and keynote speaker in the area of communications. I have personally taken his workshop, Communicating with Influence, twice. Our team at Demand Spring has adopted his approach and are very successfully using it in client presentations, proposals, and even email communication.

I had a chance to chat with Gregor recently as part of our Standing Taller series.

Mark: You are an unlikely expert in communication skills. Tell us why and how you got to this focus/point in your career?

Gregor: I really AM an unlikely expert in communication, I still find it incredible that I’ve come to a place where this is what I do now. I struggled with communication in many ways – people found me difficult to understand, they found me challenging to deal with, and I found it incredibly frustrating trying to express myself to different audiences. One-on-one I didn’t seem to have these problems, it seemed to be more in group settings – presentations, conference calls, important meetings, that’s when I REALLY struggled to get my ideas across in a way that worked for other people.

That’s what led me to my work right now – I became so frustrated with my inability to connect with people in an authentic way and I knew I needed to do something about it. It was impacting my professional life, it was impacting my personal life, and I knew that unless I sorted this out, I was going to have serious problems for the rest of my life.

I tried to read everything I could find. I read the research. I went to training seminars. What I soon discovered was that most of the information out there is incredibly misleading. It’s subjective and it’s based on people’s experiences on what they think works for them, and therefore what they believe may work for other people. What I discovered is that what works for one person in communication doesn’t necessarily work for someone else.

So I took a research-based approach. I started really studying the science behind communication. I discovered that the way we process information is very unique to each of us, and that we need to understand how each of us processes information in order to understand how to communicate to other people. For me this was a revelation. It explained EVERYTHING. It explained why I struggled to interact with people, it explained why some people found me so difficult, it explained why I took communication feedback so personally, and suddenly I was able to explain to anyone how to communicate in a way that worked every time, no matter who they were speaking to.

It came from a place of personal frustration, and it ended up being a thing that I’m incredibly passionate about sharing with other people.

Mark: This is an area that is so critical to career success. Being able to communicate and present your ideas with influence is absolutely essential to career growth, development, and moving up, yet many people struggle with this. What is it about communicating your ideas that people generally struggle with?

Gregor: I agree, communication is probably the single most important thing you need to learn at every level in an organization – and unfortunately, it’s the thing that’s the most misunderstood. What people are finding is that you can read books about it, you can go to training courses, but you’re not necessarily going to get any better.

The problem with communication is that we are perceived very strongly based on our communication style. Research shows that people judge our intelligence and our ability in our jobs simply based on how we communicate. Which we all know is completely unfair. There’s absolutely no correlation between someone’s intelligence and how good they are at their job, but people will still make that judgement. Unfortunately, what’s been happening for decades (and it’s still happening), is that people who naturally are good at communication, or the people who figure it out by trial and error, are usually the ones who make it to the leadership or executive level – like you say, an essential requirement of being an effective leader or executive is to have effective communication skills. So, if you don’t figure it out, you’re not going to make it.

I know all about this because I never made it there. I was one of those people who was passed over for promotions and leadership roles based on my inability to communicate. That’s why I’m so passionate about this.

We’re judged incorrectly based on our communication style – and the other side of it is that we’re not taught properly. We all know technically brilliant people who are simply not able to express themselves properly when leading conference calls or delivering presentations. There are people with remarkable leadership potential who simply aren’t able to engage or inspire audiences in a way that achieves action. That’s what we need to teach. That’s why I used research and science to come up with a methodology that allows everyone, irrespective of natural ability, to communicate in a way that works for everybody else.

Mark: Most communication or presentation experts will focus on things like posture, body language, and so on. You’ve taken a very different approach – one based in science. Tell us more about the neuroscience behind communication.

Gregor: The things that you’re mentioning play a very small role in communication. The most important element of communication is are you communicating in a way that resonates with people’s brains. What I discovered is that your audience thinks differently than you. People process information in completely different ways. We have to understand how they process information, but more than that, how can we communicate in a way to people who think differently than us.

If you’re speaking to one person, research shows that you’re very unlikely to be able to understand actually how they process information and you’re probably going to get it wrong. More than that, if you’re speaking to two, three, ten, fifty, one hundred people, you’re going to have such diverse neurological preferences in your audience that you have to communicate in a way that works for everybody – and that’s what I developed. I am a proponent of neurological structure – communicating in an order or sequence that gives each person exactly what they need at exactly the right moment. If you do that, you have a 100% chance of communicating in a way that resonates with people’s brains. The problem is that we tend to communicate in a way that’s comfortable for us and that doesn’t necessarily work for the audience.

Mark: You built your methodology based on your neuroscience research. Can you describe the methodology?

Gregor: It’s based on the idea of neurological preferences that originated with the work of Ned Herrmann in the 1970s and was later refined and further developed by Dr. Geil Browning in the 1990s. The idea of neurological preferences is that our brain likes to do certain things and will constantly default to its preference – or preferences plural since most of us have multiple preferences.

Preferences are very different than abilities. Abilities are things that you learn and develop over time. Preferences are hard-wired into your brain. These preferences can be used to understand how people tend to communicate. We tend to receive information in certain ways based on how our brain likes to process it. What we then need to understand is that we need to structure our communication based on neurological preferences.

Based on the idea of these preferences, I’ve developed a structure – what I call a NeuroCommunication Framework. It’s an order or sequence of speaking, presenting, or writing, in which you give your audience certain information at exactly the right time based on neurological impatience.

As an example, one of the preferences is social thinking. You need to connect with them very quickly. So in the structure, we address them first – within the first sentences of your written or verbal communication we need to give them something very specific. Once we’ve done that we can move onto the next preference. The order is very delicate, it needs to be done in EXACTLY that order for it to work properly.

Mark: Can you describe a little bit more what somebody with a social neurological preference needs in terms of communication and also describe the other three types of neurological preferences?

Gregor: I’ll start with one of the rational thinking preferences. There are four preferences which we can split into two groups – rational and intuitive. I’m going to use the terminology developed by Dr. Geil Browning to describe these preferences.

The first of the four, and one of the rational thinking preferences is analytical thinking. These thinkers require data, evidence and proof. When you’re speaking or writing to them, they’re most interested in the body of your communication. That’s where they neurologically get what they need, which is the evidence and the proof behind what you’re saying. Analytical thinkers are not very interested in your introduction or even your conclusion – they like to make their own conclusions and they’re not very interested in how you set the stage or your introduction, they’re interested in the actual body content itself. That’s why it’s very misleading to suggest, for example, that when you’re doing a talk or a presentation, you need to engage all of the audience during your introduction. Neuroscience shows that analytical thinkers, who represent 25% of the general population, aren’t interested in your introduction.

The second rational thinking preference, but distinctly different than analytical thinking, is structural thinking. Structural thinkers require clear sequence and order. They are brilliant at being able to organize complex or chaotic data into a pattern that makes logical sense. When we’re speaking to them, it’s very straightforward — we need to make sure we give them explicit order and sequence when we speak. As an example, in a presentation, we need to make sure that we outline the structure or the high-level agenda and we have to make sure we stick to it. At the end of a presentation, structural thinkers are looking for next steps or action items.

The intuitive thinking preferences are slightly more difficult to understand. The first is conceptual thinking. Again, 25% of the population have a conceptual thinking preference. They’re engaged by new ideas and options. What this means is that they don’t actually listen or read things in their entirety. They’re interested in pieces or fragments that they pick out and use to start developing their own innovative approaches or ideas. They’re very creative thinkers and they’re very good at innovative problem-solving. This also makes them not very great listeners since they’re neurologically impatient! What they’re most interested in is what is the big idea, what’s the point or conclusion. They need to have it very early on in the presentation, or meeting, or conference call, or even in an email or document. If you’ve ever watched a conceptual thinker read handouts in a meeting, you’ll notice that they often flip to the last page – they’re looking for the conclusion.

The last preference is social thinking. These are the most difficult to understand, but also the most important to understand when it comes to achieving influence. Social thinkers are incredibly intuitive and are able to read or see through the speaker -they’re interested in authenticity. What they’re looking for is some sort of common ground that they can relate to. This doesn’t mean small talk, this means genuine connection through a common experience or feeling. We can establish this through the use of inclusive language. If you engage a social thinker in an authentic way, they’ll listen all the way through and at the end of your talk, conversation, or conference call, they often want to get involved. This is where you would make your request and social thinkers are usually the first ones to volunteer or offer to help.

You can see that the structure is based on neurological impatience. You’re giving each neurological preference exactly what they need in the most efficient way possible. You’re trying to make your communication as concise as possible by giving them just what they need and nothing more. My view is that people often talk too much. Presentations are too long, meetings are too long, emails and documents are too long. I believe that by using this structure we can make it more concise and more effective at the same time.  

Mark: Your premise is that in each presentation or in each piece of communication that you create, you need to appeal to all four neurological preferences, correct?

Gregor: Yes, this is the game-changer. This was my revelation from the research. You do not tailor your communication to the audience, you do not try and figure out who you are speaking or writing to. Instead, you give them everything in the most efficient manner possible and you are guaranteed to address the entirety of your audience.

Mark: In closing, what advice do you have for our readers?

Gregor: The biggest takeaway is that communication is not about you. Your communication is about understanding your audience. Each of us needs to work very hard to understand that people think differently than us. Each of us has a responsibility to communicate in a way that works for other people, not just for us.

What I suggest is that communication has to become a conscious exercise. In every email we write, each conference call, in every presentation we deliver, and even in casual interactions we need to make a distinct effort to communicate in a way that works for other people.

Click here to download Gregor’s NeuroCommunication Framework template.

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gregor jeffrey

Gregor Jeffrey

Gregor Jeffrey’s innovative work in the field of NeuroCommunication has helped thousands of executives, leaders and professionals to immediately improve their communication and increase their influence.
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