by Steve Adubato, PhD
Having confidence is a key attribute for any successful leader or communicator. Confidence is essential to executive presence and to create a positive environment on your team regardless of your professional arena. But confidence can sometimes manifest itself in sloppy, irresponsible and counterproductive communication that backfires.
Consider the case of the Giants football team last weekend, in preparation for a big game against the Dallas Cowboys. It was a must-win game for the Giants, as a loss would take them out of the playoff picture. Without their head coach Tom Coughlin even knowing that it was being said in public, two Giants players engaged in very public communication that made the Giants’ loss to the Cowboys that much more painful.
Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said, “There’s going to be a lot of blood spilled out there,” and implied it would be Cowboys blood. Further, Giants defensive back Terrell Thomas actually guaranteed a victory and said he hoped the Cowboys put his victory prediction on their bulletin board for motivation. Talk about dumb communication.
Last Sunday’s game ended in a 24-21 devastating loss to the Giants and gave Dallas the opportunity to rub it in. After the game, Cowboys defensive back Orlando Scandrick said, “They have a great coach. I have no earthly idea why he let them talk like that this week.”
Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher posted a picture of himself with red ink on his face with the caption, “They say blood would be shed. Just finished eating a Giant.”
After the game, the Giants’ Thomas would say about his guaranteed victory prediction, “Obviously it was my fault. I could have said it a little bit better, but at the end of the day, that’s how I felt in the moment and we needed to win this game, because our season was on the line…”
Competing in football isn’t exactly the same as competing in business, but many of the principles of communication are just as relevant.
Having confidence and a positive “we can get this done” attitude is important in any arena. But being cocky and arrogant, making guaranteed predictions, has little value while carrying tons of unnecessary risk.
We’ve seen CEOs of companies at initial public offerings making bold predictions as to the company’s future earnings in an effort to boost confidence and stock value. We’ve seen the president make guarantees on a national health care plan that he had good reason to believe was something he and his administration couldn’t deliver on. Managers tell team members they will get a huge salary hike if productivity hits a certain mark.
These bold and very risky predictions are fine if the person communicating them has some sort of guarantee (which is virtually impossible in the world of business), but in most cases, such overconfidence only spurs the competition to work harder, motivating them to target you and your organization unnecessarily. When, in fact, things don’t work out, the leader is forced to explain what went wrong, which often produces excuses and blaming, which only weakens the leader’s status.
Here’s my advice. Communicate with confidence, but use statements that focus on guaranteeing only how hard you and your team are going to work and not the result that will be achieved.
Instead of saying you guarantee a victory, say, “Our team will work day and night to provide exceptional customer service. We are confident that consumers will respond in a positive way.”
This reminds your team that even though you work your hardest to achieve excellence, certain variables are beyond anyone’s control be it on a football field, in business or on Wall Street. You would think veteran athletes and top business professionals would know better, but from the way they communicate all too often, it’s clear that they don’t.