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Message in a bottle

20 Mar 2019 / business Print

Message in a bottle – the power of  communication

A surgeon saws the wrong leg off a patient. A marriage splits up. An applicant doesn’t get a job for which they are more than qualified. What went wrong?

The communication. Someone didn’t tell someone else. Someone didn’t listen. Someone didn’t convey the information they thought they were conveying.

“Bad communication is at the root of every badly managed crisis, every unmet challenge, every corporate failure, every accident, every failed relationship.” So says communications guru Terry Prone in her book Talk the Talk. If you think she’s being melodramatic, think again.


The reality is that you’re always communicating. You cannot not communicate. Even when my dog says nada and avoids eye contact, he’s communicating a message, an energy, an impact.

The question is: how effective is that communication?

Unfortunately, for many of us, our communications are aimless, mindless and sloppy. They lack focus, engagement and incitement to action.

Bill Clinton’s campaign manager James Carville famously coined the electioneering slogan, ‘It’s the economy, stupid’, as a rallying cry and a focus for the campaign team.

The message advantageously used the then-prevailing recession in the US as one of the campaign’s means to successfully unseat George HW Bush. We would do well to adopt the war cry, ‘It’s the communication, stupid’ for ourselves, our businesses and our families.

Because the single biggest challenge in business and corporate life now is less the economy – which is working quite well, and you have little or no control over it anyway – but more our ability to communicate purposefully, powerfully and persuasively. Communication mastery is the new competitive advantage. In person. On the podium. In print.

The good news is that this communication prowess is achievable, and can be accomplished by anyone who chooses to, and has the discipline to master certain attitudes, techniques and strategies.

Clinton himself, regarded by many as the consummate communicator, was not a great communicator to begin with. As a young man, he failed abysmally to make any marked impact on either his high-school or university colleagues. That would change dramatically as he began to study and model the communication traits of John F Kennedy.

The Odyssey

To begin your communication mastery odyssey, let me bring you back west to Connemara. They have a sean fhocal there that says: ‘Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile’. In English, this translates to ‘Birds of a feather flock together’, or in science: ‘Like attracts like.’ The same obtains in psychology. The bottom line is that we like people who are like ourselves.

So, if we intend to engage and influence and persuade others to do what we want, we must first connect with people at a deep personal level.

I can still hear the sonorous tones of my marketing lecturer Dr Aidan Daly – himself an ace communicator – induct us into the secret of impactful communication, selling and marketing: “People buy people first, and your product or service or message second.”

It would be fine and dandy, however, if we were all like each other. The problem is, we’re not. Psychology throws a spanner in the works by proclaiming that, universally, there are four different communication styles.

This implies that, naturally, we get on swimmingly with 25% of the human population, while we are at odds with the remaining 75%. It explains perfectly why some people:

  • Give you time and attention,
  • Value you and like you,
  • Make allowances for you,
  • Focus on your strengths,
  • Willingly assist you, and
  • Make themselves readily available for you.

It also indicates why challenges arise in organisations when people:

  • Think differently,
  • Arrive at decisions differently,
  • Work at a different pace,
  • Manage time differently,
  • Handle emotions differently, and
  • Deal with stress differently.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could identify how a person wanted to receive information, and then modify and adapt that message in a way that was best understood?

You can. It’s called ‘iMA’ (identify, modify and adapt) and is the brainchild of James Knight. It’s a free online tool, a language, and a worldwide community that can genuinely be a game-changer in the way you communicate and, ergo, get better results.

Down by the water

Science teaches us that when we combine two unique elements, such as hydrogen and oxygen, a combination reaction occurs that produces an entirely different compound – in this case, water.

The same is true in psychology. When you combine two communication elements – assertiveness and openness – you produce four separate combinations or communication styles.

From the diagram (below/right/opposite), it’s clear that those with a higher red colour are both assertive and self-contained, or in layperson’s language, ‘direct and closed.’

‘High yellows’ are also direct but very open.

‘High blues are open but non-assertive.


‘High greens’ are self-contained and non-assertive.

Simplistic and all as it sounds, there are only four communication styles in the world. The first great feature of iMA is that it easily and scientifically helps you identify your dominant communication style. Visit www.padraicomaille-ima.com to take a simple ten-question diagnostic that will reveal your colour in less than five minutes. Remember, there is no right or wrong colour.

So how do you put iMA to work for you, your business and your family?

Firstly, do iMA for yourself by taking the questionnaire and then studying your colour description (above).

SWOT analysis

I have personally found iMA to be a wonderful platform from which to begin a personal SWOT analysis. For example, I’m a ‘high yellow’ (which essentially means that, although I have aspects of all the other colours, I have more yellow). One of my core strengths is that I’m high-energy, optimistic and persuasive. I enjoy nothing more than motivating and inspiring people.

A recurring weakness in my life, however has, ironically, been discipline, or smácht. I have discovered the hard way that, while I’m an effective mentor and coach to CEOs, I’m not particularly effective CEO material myself. I simply don’t sweat the small stuff that’s an essential prerequisite of any successful CEO.

The opportunity for me is to have a highly organised schedule of courses and meetings where I get to spend 80% of my time doing what I do best, and which comes easily and effortlessly to me.

Oscar Wilde

Like Oscar Wilde, the greatest threat to my performance and results is that I have difficulty resisting temptation, and need to be vigilant not to chase too many rabbits. As Socrates pointed out, the unexamined life is not worth living, and you should ‘know thyself’.

Secondly, identify the communication style of your audience, whether one or many. You’ve likely heard or taken one of the many excellent psychometric tests that determine your inner core personality traits?

Tests such as Belbin, DISC and Myers-Briggs are great in helping you to ‘know thyself.’ The big advantage of iMA, however, is that it enables you to see yourself as others see you. Rabbie Burns memorably quipped:

‘Oh would some power,

The gift give us,

To see ourselves as others see us.’

That’s the power of iMA. It gives you an insight into how others see you. And, armed with that data, you can begin to identify, modify and adapt your behavior to match that of your audience.

For example, I coach a highly successful ‘red’ CEO each Monday morning via a video-conference. The time allocated for the call is 30 minutes. In three years’ coaching, I have rarely ever spent more than 20 minutes on that call. ‘Reds’ value when the call finishes early.

To achieve that, I have to restrain and modify my ‘yellow’ tendency to talk and avoid all social chit-chat and focus laser-like on results. It is a perfect example of me identifying my client’s colour, modifying my communication style to match his, and adapting my behaviour to provide him with the results he wants.

If you’re communicating to a larger group, it’s perfectly safe to assume that there will be a fairly equal distribution of colours. In this case, it’s critical to appeal to all colour types.

Colour types

Thirdly, do iMA for your team. You cannot build a successful team with just one or even two colour types. Diversity of colour is critical to effective team working.

Earlier this year, I was asked to identify the source of underperformance in a very elite team in the private sector. A ‘high red’ auditor had audited the performance of the team and concluded that their results were significantly off the mark. It was expected that I would engage in a series of long consultations with each of the 14-strong team and then provide a long and detailed report.

On the contrary, I had each of the team spend five minutes completing the iMA diagnostic via email. The result was illuminating. Of the 14, a total of 13 were ‘green’, and one was ‘yellow.’

It quickly transpired that, while ‘high greens’ make great researchers (the purpose of the job), they are also prone to being perfectionists and were procrastinating on getting reports out that were needed by their customers. I simply added an additional ‘high red’ and ‘high blue’ to the team and the results tangibly improved within one quarter.

You may understandably ask how 13 of one colour ended up in a team of 14. Once again I refer you to ‘Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile.’ The people doing the interviewing were all ‘high green’ and favoured someone of their communication style.

Communication matters. Begin by being mindful of your own communication style. Then, become aware of the communication styles of those you are communicating with, and modify and adapt your behavior accordingly.



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