BLOG: Communication should be a “hard” skill. It’s not always easy.

Judy Ditchfield, CEO/Creative Director Performance Role Play Training, Facilitator, Business Role Player, Actor

November 26, 2021


by Judy Ditchfield


Engagement is a necessary evil

Today, in the business environment, high levels of skill are highly prized. Individuals are largely put into managerial positions due to their experience and advanced skill set. However, the ability to communicate is seen as secondary. It is regarded as a “soft skill”, a necessary “evil”. Unfortunately, it has become the “evil” in an environment where it is a fundamental, and an intrinsic part of effective leadership.


What sets leaders apart?


What sets good leaders apart from great leaders isn’t rhetoric, but rather engagement. Engagement means genuinely listening, asking powerful questions to truly understand, working with the other individual, and having a powerful and meaningful conversation. This is a two-way process: it serves to enhance and not block; to grow and not limit, and finally to collaborate rather than just instruct.  And it is tough to do.


Are you asking enough questions?


Coaching is critical

For those leaders realizing the foundation of good leadership is engagement and connection, coaching has become a powerful tool. However, coaching is often seen as asking a few good questions, and giving lots of advice. However true coaching is 80% listening and only 20% asking questions. It is far more about getting the other person to speak, informing yourself as a leader, asking the right questions to get them thinking differently, challenging the normal ways of doing things. That’s engagement.


Your true differentiator is customer engagement

In this rapidly changing world, competition is rife. Companies are constantly trying to better what their competitor has to offer. They compete for customers with competing products, and try to lure customers with pricing, packaging and external entrapments.  But the only truly differentiating factor is customer engagement. We would rather pay more and be cared for than pay less and be ignored. It is all about engagement and humanity. So what do you need to do differently to get a different result?


Soft skills, really? Well maybe not so soft. Right? It’s a hard skill. And needs to be practiced. Very few of us are brilliant at courageous conversations. We are often great talkers, and not nearly as good listeners. So how can business role play assist?


Roleplay, using professionally trained business simulators, give you the opportunity to practice having conversations in a powerful, challenging, and “real” environment. Online or face to face, delegates get the chance to try out new ways of having conversations, sometimes successfully but more often than not, less successful than they intended. With the business role player, they can try it out, get it wrong, get immediate feedback and coaching, and try and try again. They can experience and internalize the shifts, they can fail and get up and try again, without repercussion. And now it can be done online. Part of the new ways of working, will require us to work online. So being able to practice online, means we get first-hand experience on how to be the best version of ourselves as leaders, as we practice the skill on a virtual platform. Now more than ever, we need to connect with our “audience”, as we operate on this virtual platform. We need to convey the message, our intent, and the energy and commitment of our message, on screen.  Having courageous conversations with the business role players allows us to hone that skill.


In a courageous conversation, we usually have rehearsed the scenario in our heads, in our attempt to get the outcomes we want. As we drive our own agenda, we lose our ability to listen. And we lose the person we are talking to. Here begin the power games. They shut down or seriously start driving their own agenda. Not ideal. Who can get heard first? When we have the opportunity to practice with professional role players virtually, we are able to try out ideas, fix old habits, understand what needs to change, get vulnerable (where real growth happens), and make mistakes, all in a “safe environment. This can be life-changing for delegates.  Working with a role player allows us to feel the change, in order to integrate the learnings towards permanent change.


My tops tips for a courageous conversation are:


  1. Go in with the intention of making it a win/win conversation for both parties
  2. Make sure the person with you feels heard and acknowledged even if you don’t agree with what they have said – this requires serious listening
  3. Be aware of the non-verbal cues they are giving you – that tells you if you are on track or not
  4. Be authentic, don’t over speak, and make a connection
  5. If the conversation is not working, change your approach until you get them on board again. Remember you have no control over someone else’s behavior. The only control is over your own, and therefore their response to you.


Find out more about Judy.