One often hears or reads about complaints that compliance
training is dull, nay even boring. I mean, how many times can you expect
someone to be lectured to on the riveting subject of the Foreign Corrupt
Practices Act (FCPA) or even the UK Bribery Act? Coupled with the legally spellbinding
subject, the sessions are often led by lawyers who are training non-lawyers.
What can I say; the audience does not always have the appreciation of the
subject that I do. I thought about this ongoing conundrum when I came across a
recent article in the Financial Times (FT), entitled "The
subtle secrets of charisma", by author Alicia Clegg. The focus of her
article was that senior managers, by learning techniques of rhetoric, vocal
cadence and gesture, can help make senior managers more like leaders. However,
I thought that her tips could also help the compliance practitioner in the more
mundane area of compliance training.
In her article, Clegg cited to the example of an Infosys
executive who was introducing a "controversial HR policy to his company."
During the talk, he felt that his audience was quite restless and "sensed that
he was failing to take his listeners with him." The Infosys executive was
quoted as saying "After the talk, people asked me, privately 'Do you really
think this is the right thing to do?'" "I thought: 'Well, yes, actually, I do.
Isn't that what I said?'" He had failed to convince. Today, however, the
executive would deliver a far different talk. Clegg said that "he would
acknowledge his colleagues' concerns, share his own feelings and perhaps tell a
personal story. He might modulate his voice; organise his key points into pithy
three-part lists; use metaphors; smile or frown occasionally, while gradually
building to a statement of personal conviction or a vision of a better future."
In other words, he would work these concepts of 'charisma' into his chat.
Clegg discussed the work of John Antonakis, a professor
of organizational behavior at Lausanne University. In a June Harvard Business
Review article he published, along with colleagues Marika Fenley and Sue
Liechti, entitled "Leaning Charisma", Antonakis argues, however, that
having charismatic qualities can turn a competent manager into someone that
others notice and want to follow. Antonakis and his team claim to have
identified twelve communication habits, rooted in the principles of "classic
rhetoric, that make a speaker appear more authoritative, trustworthy and
persuasive - in short, more like a leader. Nine of the techniques are verbal:
using metaphors and easy-to-remember three-part lists; telling stories; drawing
vivid contrasts; asking rhetorical questions; expressing moral conviction;
reflecting an audience's sentiments; and setting high but achievable goals. The
rest are non-verbal: raising and lowering your voice, letting your feelings
show in face and hand gestures to reinforce what you say." Their case for their
charisma training runs counter to a recent theme in management ideas that plays
down corporate stars in favor of teams.
Clegg writes about old ways of making new points. She
says that the modern-day science of persuasion is rooted in three "rhetorical
appeals" described long ago by Aristotle. The three are: ethos, logos and
Clegg cites to other examples of effective rhetoric. She
quotes Sam Leith, author of "You Talkin' to Me?" who says "Effective
rhetoric need not be fancy rhetoric." Rather than cultivating a high-flown
style, he advises novices to tune into how their audience thinks, and to listen
to how they speak. He identifies General George Patton as a master of the art
of persuasive plain-speaking. In the final weeks of World War II, the general
exhorted his troops to redouble their efforts with the words "The quicker they
are whipped, the quicker we can go home". This got the audience of his troops
on his side because getting home was what mattered to them the most.
Clegg also discussed the well-known technique of
repetition. She included Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech
where King used the device of repeated phrases at the start of successive
clauses so that there develops 'an appreciation of what is easy on the ear is
important." Clegg also discussed the technique of chiasmus, "in which the
second half of a statement reverses the order of words in the first - as in
"ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your
country". The words were simple and direct - and their impact all the greater."
Antonakis argues that these techniques can be taught and,
more importantly, learned and that "everyone can improve with practice." But
Clegg cautioned that there is more than simply having commanding rhetoric. A
good leader must be a good listener as well. She cites to the work of Harvard
academician Rosabeth Moss Kanter who argues in her blog that "it is how well
you listen, rather than how well you talk, that persuades people to do things."
Clegg appropriately ends by noting that no matter how
good your rhetorical techniques are, "It is not just what you say, or how you
say it, that convinces people you are not phony. You can dress things up with
all the anaphora and epistrophe in the world, but if you don't have a deep
sense that something is important you're not going to persuade anyone."
So for the compliance practitioner who puts on training
there is plenty of good advice on rhetorical techniques that you can use. But,
most importantly, don't be phony.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2013
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