C-Suite Leadership

Why CxOs Must Stop Following This Popular But Absurd Communication Advice (and stop now)!

Leaders are being misled in how to communicate, whether to one or many. Following this advice will leave you confused and frustrated. Taking back your power will leave you and your listeners better off for what you said and how you said it.

Scott Smeester


March 16, 2023

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Voltaire

Have you heard that the reason you don’t communicate well is because you are not doing so in line with the communication style of your listener(s)?

Communication styles are made up. They are out of fashion. Yet, people continue to roll them out on runways as models to be emulated. 

The problem in your presentation, whether to one or many, isn’t a style issue, yours or theirs. 

So how do you communicate effectively to one or many if communication-style is out of date?

The Problem With Believing In Communication Styles

Before we answer the question, we need to sit on this problem for a little bit more. Supposed communication styles are usually grouped into four differences. Which itself is interesting, since many personality profiles are often groups of four (there is a clue there).

Some people even get cute with the categories and associate animals with communication styles: Owl, Panther, Dolphin, Peacock was one that I saw.

Generally, categories distinguish people who are direct personalities from those who are more creative or empathetic or industrious. 

You run into some problems when you try to speak to communication styles.

  • How do you know the style you are speaking to?
  • What do you do if multiple styles are present?
  • Why don’t comedians change their approach when multiple styles are present?
  • Why doesn’t the President?
  • Why didn’t Martin Luther King, Jr.?
  • What if the style you are speaking to is having an off-day?

Also, those who promote the reality of communication styles admit that a person has a dominant style, but also a mix of others. Umm. Okay….then what?

Supposedly, each style has a preference they want to see. I saw one group separate it this way:

  • One prefers clarity
  • The other prefers ideas
  • Another likes authenticity
  • A fourth gets into concrete facts

(I’m raising my hand here so that the teacher can call on me).


“I like all those.”

Stopping Absurdity From Becoming Atrocity

Communication doesn’t start with the listener. It starts with the communicator. 

The key to communicating isn’t in appealing to a style, it is in connecting.

Connecting is based on relatability, not likability or similarity (of style).

Relatability is based on need, specifically:

  • Do we have a shared need?
  • Do we have a common enemy?
  • Do we have a mutual benefit?

If I convince someone (and I can do it in one question) that we have a shared need, a common enemy and a mutual benefit (it’s not about me), then I can talk to anyone about anything.

I can do it in my style (because that is authentic).

I can do so without putting up common roadblocks (because that is the real problem). 

I can do so with one or many without changing my purpose or content.

All that understood, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t paying attention to how you are being received. Generally, do CEOs like you to get to the point? Yes. (They also like a good emotional journey, as long as you really do get them to a destination). Do CFOs enjoy facts? I would hope so. 

The art is in the teller, not the listener. That deserves its own quote:

“The art of communication is in the teller, not the listener.”

 A person’s way of listening is not the problem as much as how you get in your own way. 

Some Tips And A Way To Help

  1. Figure out one of two things: For whom I am talking to, what is their biggest pain and what is their nicest gain? Once you know those, focus on the gain if possible.
  2. Ask a question. Example from above: “How do we communicate effectively if the problem isn’t communication styles? 
  3. Relate yourself to the problem and relate them to the problem. (As if you are speaking to the Executive Team: “I asked myself that question after talking to my team last week. They tend to be detail oriented; I thought I hit a home run presenting a great plan and it fell flat. I asked one of them why, and her response floored me: ‘I didn’t know why I should care. It was like, great plan, but so what?” Can you relate? Have you ever wondered why something you said didn’t register as powerfully as you expected? Is there anything worse than hearing “So What?”)
  4. Change to We-language. “I have figured out how we can be more effective in talking to our teams. If we do three simple things, it will impact our communication ten-fold.”
  5. Tell them what needs to be done, what will happen if we don’t, and what we can expect when we do.

This whole issue - presenting effectively as an executive (or to an executive) - merits articles and videos and training (which conveniently I have). However, I’m not here to say more for now.

I do have an offer. For a limited time, I am discounting our Presentation/Communication skill coaching. I don’t often put offers like this into an article, but I’m aggravated by bad advice and passionate about you being a radically effective communicator. There are so many myths out there. Anyway, my coach has made himself available to you. Just find me here and let’s get this going. 

One last thought: The heart is in what you say. The art is in what you do not say. How you say it is important, but not nearly as important as you have been led to believe.

Figure out with us what you say, what you don’t say and how you say it, and you will be all the fashion. 


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