Why communication is like tennis; and how to do both better

By: Andy Bounds

Date: 5 January 2015

Why communication is like tennis; and how to do both better{{}}"Andy, you are rubbish at this."

So said my tennis coach, Vicky, last week.

She wanted to know what was going through my mind every time I hit the ball.

So, she had asked me to shout “good”, “bad”, or “OK” every time I hit it.

Now, I'm not very good at tennis. So, I shouted “good” if I got it over the net and “bad” if I didn't.

But she told me: "Your objective is not just to get it over the net. You’re supposed to hit it where I'm not. You aren't just trying to get it in; you’re trying to win the point."

To be honest, I was a bit embarrassed that I needed this pointing out! In fact, I've since found out that everyone else in the world knew this.

But, as soon as I changed my focus, my game improved ­– almost immediately. I now know what “good” looks like. So I'm aiming for it and often achieving it.

So how does this apply to communication?

Well, if you had to grade each of your communications as “good”, “bad” or “OK”, how would you decide which each was? Would it be whether your communication:

  • covered all the agenda items?
  • finished on time?
  • engaged the audience?
  • had 100% attendance?
  • was better than last week’s?
  • wasn't derailed by detailed discussions about irrelevant issues?

All these are useful, yes. But they aren't the true measure of good communication.

So, here’s my version of Vicky’s advice:

"Your objective is not just to communicate. You’re supposed to trigger actions as a result. You aren't just trying to say things. You’re trying to cause things."

And, once your focus changes to this, like my tennis, your communications will improve – almost immediately. You now know what “good” looks like. So you aim for it. And you will often achieve it.

If I'm being brutally honest, even though I'm focusing on the right things now, Federer could probably still beat me. Probably.

But that’s fine. I'm better than I was. And I always aim for success, not perfection. And, now that I'm focusing on the right thing, I keep improving.

What about you? Will your communications be better today than they were yesterday? Well, if you focus on the right thing – their impact, not their content – you've got a great chance.

Copyright © 2014 Andy Bounds is a communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips here.

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