In this week’s communication skills training blog, we explain why we’re big believers in predicting success.
And how you can use positive language to help move closer to your goals.
“I believe optimism can be a competitive advantage”.
The words of Scotland rugby coach Gregor Townsend, before this weekend, when his team travels to Cardiff.
To win their first ever Six Nations title.
Wales – three-time winners.
And coached by New Zealander Warren Gatland, who boldly declared last week:
“I think we can win the tournament”.
Many of us in the UK struggle with ‘tall poppy syndrome‘.
If we’re asked how we are, we respond:
If we’re asked how good we are at communication, we respond:
“I like to think I’ve got reasonably good communication skills”.
And if we’re asked to predict a future outcome in our work, or sports team, we hazard:
“Hopefully, fingers crossed.”
The Scotland rugby coach is very much part of a new way of thinking.
A Borders man, he moved from his local amateur club to play professionally in Scotland, before sabbaticals to both France and Australia.
His international career won him 82 Scotland caps and won him a place on the victorious 1997 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa.
As a coach, he’s achieved a Pro14 title win with Glasgow Warriors, and in his first stint with Scotland in the autumn, secured a double against Australia, while running world champions New Zealand extremely close.
He’s earning admirers around the world, and recently chaired a panel alongside Manchester City coach and global trendsetter, Pep Guardiola.
The rise and rise of Townsend is a far cry from the “not too bad” he’d have grown up with.
When Townsend travelled to Montpelier in southern France in 2004, his communication skills were put to the test.
Speaking to the media in French, Townsend was asked about his side’s prospects for the upcoming game.
One word emerged repetitively at the start of his answers.
“J’espere” (“I hope”).
It emerged so often, he was pulled aside by a teammate.
“Why do you talk of j’espere?”
Townsend was just translating what he’d have said in Scotland.
“Be determined to win”, he was told by the teammate.
“Be committed to being the best”.
Townsend’s first major international role came at the side of Andy Robinson, former England coach and eternal enthusiast.
Unfortunately for both, Scotland struggled with results.
The Scotland national rugby union team came 2nd last in the Six Nations in 2010.
Then came 2nd last in 2011.
Finally coming last in 2012, followed by a home loss to Tonga.
Robinson was out, and so was the positive language.
Townsend left shortly afterwards.
When Townsend was handed the reins at Glasgow Warriors in 2012, he inherited a good side.
But he made them great.
He instilled honesty and ownership in the players, by asking them to identify their own weaknesses.
If they struggled with left-hand passing, they’d be given time to work on that with the club coaches.
As well as improving their playing skills, they worked very hard on positive communication skills.
Glasgow Warriors had a ‘clear goal: to be the best team in the UK’.
Townsend encouraged his players to say that publicly.
And when the time was right, to announce their internal goal.
To be the best side in Europe.
The team won the Pro12 title in 2015: they were the best side competing in Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Italy.
And then in 2017. came the Scotland job.
Reports quickly emerged from Townsend’s first training session as Scotland manager.
“I want us to play the highest-tempo rugby on the planet”.
Anyone watching Scotland’s game against Australia in 2017, where they ran out 53-24 winners, would know that there was substance behind the style.
And Scotland, having now won 7 of the last 11 games, go into the Six Nations riding on a wave of optimism.
Scotland has been here before though.
Football, rugby, golf.
Scotland football fans will remember a progressive Ally MacLeod proclaiming before the 19197884 World Cup, that he was going to Argentina to bring back a medal.
All they brought back was a positive drugs test.
So we can be forgiven for taking positivity with a pinch of salt.
And our cultural roots, our tall poppy syndrome, naturally cautions us before bleating out:
“We’ll win the Six Nations!”
So what can you say?
You can predict success, with conditions.
Gregor Townsend will carefully lay out the conditions, upon which success is built.
“If we’re going to win the tournament, we need to play even better than we did in the autumn. Tackle harder than ever, control the ball and believe in ourselves”.
That does two things.
The words Townsend uses have changed too.
“J’espere” has become “we’re determined”.
“Fingers crossed” has become “we have a clear goal”.
And all the early signs show the players are responding to that tremendously.
Words pale in comparison to actions.
Saturday will reveal – for both Townsend and Gatland – whether there is substance behind the style.
Andrew McFarlan is the Managing Director of Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.
You can view his full profile here…
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