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FM, the communicator

14 June 2013


"People are people so why should it be / You and I should get along so awfully?”


The synth-pop sound of Depeche Mode there, with 1980s’ smash People are People. Yes, it’s possibly the worst rhyming couplet in recorded history – but in his rather awkward way, Martin Gore’s electro pioneers appear to be gnawing away at a fundamental truth about our sector.

As we all know, FM is a people business. FMs need to be great communicators, effective diplomats and unflappable adaptors to fast-changing client/occupier needs.

We’re required to be expert at communicating sideways to peers and down to our direct and indirect reports. Put bluntly, getting along “awfully” with people just isn’t going to cut it. And so, those who make a successful career in FM don’t. We get on with people famously, in fact.

There’s one way in which our communication can be awful, however, and it involves that other direction of communication travel – upwards; to the board, to senior level decision-makers, and to the people who can really make change happen. FMs, such confident communicators at all other levels, can be struck mute at the prospect of justifying themselves to more senior personnel.

It’s a shortfall that needs addressing because who else is better qualified to speak out about the absurdity of, say, some idiot’s poor tendering choice, or a lunatic guru’s potentially catastrophic, productivity-quashing change to the workplace? Alas, putting an alternative case can sometimes feel like we’re putting our jobs on the line.

It’s a confidence thing, and motivational speaker Jim Lawless calls the solution ‘taming the tiger’, by which he means the tiger of our inner monologue. This tiger roars at us just as we’re set to communicate our life-changing, business-changing decision, whatever it may be. We’re so absolutely certain that we’re right, but at the last moment we think ‘better’ of it, trading potential glory for a quieter life.

Lawless became a professional jockey for a bet, just to prove his point that you can indeed achieve what your tiger says you can’t. Last week, Lawless used his keynote address at the ThinkFM conference to explain how his 350-strong audience could break through this stifling communication barrier.

It’s what happened next that really struck me; most of the speakers who followed Lawless’ address at ThinkFM invoked his presentation when making theirs. Clearly, all those comments about ‘seizing the day’ had made quite an impact. I didn’t attend a single presentation in which Lawless’ speech wasn’t mentioned.

At ThinkFM, and at the FM procurement roundtable event we ran the following day, so many of the solutions discussed needed underpinning by an associated requirement for better upward communication in order to make them happen. Do we in FM pretend we’re good at getting on with people when, in fact, we’ve got a communication ‘blind spot’?

After all, when it comes to making strong, long-term workplace management decisions, what the FM thinks should always be in the spotlight. Everything we say should count in large amounts…

Martin Read is managing editor for FM World