The 7 Habits of highly effective communicators


Stephen R Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has come to represent a universal and principled approach to solving personal and professional problems. This 25 year old book has become a seven step guide to enjoying a successful life based on dignity, fairness and integrity.

Black Isle has specialised in business communication skills for over 25 years, and has enabled senior decision makers, the world over, to deliver leadership insights and key messages with greater influence, impact and clarity. Here is how the world’s greatest communicators champion Stephen R Covey’s seven habits.

Habit 1) Be proactive

Always be on the lookout for opportunities to influence others through presentation or writing. Whatever your challenge, effective communication will be key.

Habit 2) Begin with the end in mind

The starting point for any spoken or written communication is to be crystal clear about your objective. Why are you doing this, what are you trying to achieve and what do you want to happen as a result?

If your objective is simply to disseminate information then you have missed an opportunity to use that information to shape your world. Why are you giving them this information, is it to convince them of something, reassure them, prompt some form of action, behaviour or opinion?

Having a clear picture of the future will enable you to focus on the concrete things to do now to make it a reality.

Habit 3) Put first things first

Use the Top-Down approach to communication and structure your logic in the shape of a pyramid that falls under one key message. Hit the audience with your key message up front so everything else they then hear (or read) will be understood in context. All of your remaining content will now be framed by the key message and act as further evidence to support it.

Remember a key message is a statement of opinion, a recommendation or a proposal.

  • “I am here to talk about three initiatives that will drive productivity and performance”, is not a key message.
  • A key message is, “There are three initiatives we must implement right now, to drive productivity and performance.”

Habit 4) Think win-win

Win-win means getting what you want by giving the audience what they want. Therefore, it is critical you know your audience and the benefits you can provide. In order to influence behaviour, persuade others to your view, negotiate, mediate, win hearts and minds, or more effectively resolve conflict, you will succeed only if you are able to sell them a message.

Think win-win and take time to establish what the audience likes/dislikes, their interests, what motivates them, who influences them, what their hot buttons are, etc? This way you can make a strong connection and your message will resonate.

Habit 5) Seek first to understand, then to be understood

Fundamental to being a good communicator is the skill of being a good listener. Use active listening to first understand, in order to then be understood.

How can you tell if someone is a good listener and what are the signs they give you to let you know they are listening well? Usually, they will:

  • Return eye contact
  • Use appropriate body language (nodding, turning their ear towards you)
  • Respond with appropriate feedback
  • Ask relevant questions
  • Not interrupt

Active listening means listening to understand and not to respond. Have you ever played the equivalent of conversation poker? This is where no matter what you say the other party always seems to be able to trump your story with a better one. This is not the hallmark of a good listener.

Habit 6) Synergize

The word synergy is derived from the ancient Greek synergos meaning “working together” in such a way as a whole can become greater than the sum of its parts. We always find that when our clients use Black Isle to train teams rather than just individuals, they enjoy a synergistic benefit. As with any training, the more often you are reminded of the lessons afterwards, the more sustainable are the results. Team members remind each other of Black Isle skills and principles long after the training, especially if the team leader is included.

Habit 7) Sharpen the saw

Covey believed that highly effective communicators “balance and renew their resources to ensure meaningful progress and consistent improvement.” Black Isle skills and principles respond well to “topping up” and reinforcement, and are common to all of our programs, which include: Clarity, Brevity & Impact, Executive Impact and Influence, Leading with Emotional Intelligence.