Negotiate your way – what Andy Murray teaches us about communications

Negotiate your way – what Andy Murray teaches us about communications

If you’re British, enjoy tennis and watched Andy Murray’s quarter-final match against the impressively slick-haired Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, you may have caught yourself screaming “Come on!” at the TV, with a couple of fist pumps thrown in.

It was a tense final set, with Verdasco matching the Scot on every point. Perhaps, ultimately, Murray’s awareness of his environment – he’s now in his fifth consecutive Wimbledon semi-final – helped him triumph.

Murray’s post-match remarks about coming back from a two-set deficit highlighted the importance of using assured tools and tactics to meet your objective.

“If you’ve never done it before, you don’t know exactly what it takes and how to turn it round,” he said. “The more times you’re in those positions… you understand the way you need to think and the way you need to negotiate your way.”

On his approach after the first two sets: “I definitely didn’t rush. I slowed myself down, if anything.”

The sporting arena may seem far removed from a corporate environment, but there are parallels.

Take your eye off the ball for a moment and, before you know it, your customer magazine or employee engagement campaign is dragging its feet – looking tired and dated.

Use your knowledge and past experience – where you’ve succeeded and where you’ve failed – to hit targets. Build communication strategies based on emotion; deliver products that make people feel something.

Sometimes there are barriers in the way of your campaign or publication. For every shot you take, a problem is fired back. Perhaps you are pushing a print publication to a young audience engaged by social media, or your organisation’s IT set-up is ill-equipped to handle an online news channel. You may not have the budget to do everything you want to do: how do you prioritise? Assess what is standing in your way from reaching your audience and change your approach to ensure you are reaching as many people as possible.

What Murray realised midway through his match – and which many communicators don’t – is the need to step back: pause and reflect, change the tempo and look at what you need to do differently to deliver your message.

When your communications programme is going well, it’s easy to coast along and forget to keep things fresh. When things are going wrong, it’s equally as easy to bury your head in the sand and hope things will naturally improve.

Quite simply, your programme needs continual monitoring. Step back, understand the way you need to think and how you need to negotiate your way to success.

What else has Wimbledon 2013 taught us?

Prepare your interview questions carefully. Garry Richardson caused a minor storm when he asked Murray after his comeback against Verdasco whether coach Ivan Lendl was likely to give him an Alex Ferguson-style “hairdryer” dressing down in the changing room to gee him up. Perhaps Richardson didn’t watch the last set and hadn’t realised Murray had won.

If interviewing someone, look down your list of questions and consider if any are likely to offend or puzzle your interviewee. A corporate environment is no place to get all Paxman-esque. Keep your interviewee on your side at all costs. It’s likely you will need to speak to them again in the future.

There is always room for improvement. Ask last year’s winners Serena Williams (World No.1, 34 consecutive match wins) and Roger Federer (36 consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final appearances and 1/100 favourite to win his second round match), who were dumped out in the early stages, making this the first Wimbledon since 1926 without a defending champion in the quarter-finals.

In the corporate world, don’t get complacent. Continually measure your communications programme. Are your competitors offering something you’re not? Are you fading into the background? Make adjustments and enhancements to ensure your campaign is in line with how your audience absorbs information or how your company culture is changing. Keep getting better. Does your staff magazine need new content ideas or a design refresh to ensure it reflects that you are a leader in your field? Introduce new weapons to your comms arsenal to keep stakeholders engaged and surprised, and your rivals on their toes.

Audience engagement is a powerful thing. Laura Robson and Andy Murray played some exceptional tennis. It would be wrong to suggest they succeeded purely on the whoops and cheers of British fans, but certainly the support will have helped maintain their enthusiasm through challenging points. It’s clear that the fans were motivated and engaged by the positive results.

In communications, it’s easier to give your audience what they want. You just ask them. If you want to hook your staff or customers with every point of your messaging, find out what is going to put them on the edge of their seat: what do they expect from you? What excites them? How do you maintain their interest, or turn a disinterested customer into a fan? Audience and reader surveys should never be underestimated.

Use the energy of your audience and the situation. Kaia Kanepi said before her fourth-round match against Laura Robson that she relished the attention on her match. “The crowd are all going to be against me and I will enjoy that. I get more power and fighting spirit.” Of course, in the corporate world, you’d rather not have anyone against you, but it’s important to use any emotion to influence and inspire your plans. Don’t brush off negative comments – set yourself the challenge of getting nay-sayers on your side.

Kanepi was beaten convincingly by Sabine Lisicki in her quarter-final match. Commentating, Martina Navratilova said that even negative energy – the frustration of being outplayed – could be used to your benefit; it’s better to have some kind of passion than to feel completely apathetic. Make sure you are so committed to your project that you celebrate when things go well and you are encouraged to step up your game when you’re facing defeat.

Don’t confuse banter with reporting. Saying that someone has “a huge backside” is never a compliment.


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