Why being a better listener makes you a strategic communicator

Alisha W. Celestine, executive director of leadership & internal communications for UCLA Health, shares how being a listener can help comms pros communicate more effectively ahead of her session at our Strategic Communications Conference this October.

When it comes to effective communication, one of the most important things you can do is listen. Listening becomes doubly crucial when communicating with employees as it not only allows you to gain a deeper understanding of your workforce’s point of view, but it helps you better understand their needs and current situation so you can develop an effective solution together.

Ahead of her session at Ragan’s Strategic Communications Conference, Oct. 19-20 at the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, Ragan caught up with Alisha W. Celestine, executive director of leadership & internal communications for UCLA Health, to learn more about her philosophy on why strategic communications starts with listening, embracing the art of the pivot and other lessons she’s learned as a comms leader. Answers have been lightly edited.

Ragan: What tips can you share with other professionals looking to communicate more effectively?

Alisha W. Celestine

Alisha W. Celestine: Be an observer. Listen with just as much intent as you write or speak. Sometimes as communicators we are so focused on getting our message out, we forget to pause and analyze if our message will matter or if it resonates. By observing what is happening – in the media, customer trends, and internal audiences – you may find that your communication is either on the mark or entirely off base.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned as a strategic comms pro so far?

The art of the pivot. This profession requires you to be prepared for your carefully laid plans to go out the window on launch day. You have to be comfortable with that. Always be prepared to adjust if needed. Being strategic does not mean being rigid. Sometimes you have to switch courses to meet your goal. That’s being strategic.

How does your approach to communication differ from your colleagues in other fields?

I have worked in communications in numerous industries – entertainment, restaurants, lifestyle, government, B2B and healthcare. While the content may have been different, the basic principles of communications are the same. I always go back to my foundation of asking two questions: What’s the goal? Who is the target audience? Once those questions are answered, every decision on communications strategy and tactic is funneled through those answers.

How do you stay up to date on the latest in the field? Are there any resources that you find particularly useful?

I skim the major news outlets daily. Typing “communications” in the search bar of Twitter can bring up current comms case studies from around the globe (and many communications practices to avoid!) And yes, Ragan lands in my mailbox every day! There is always something useful to share with my team and spark insightful conversation.

At this year’s Strategic Comms Conference, you’re leading a session discussing how to sharpen your manager communications. Can you give our readers a preview of what they can expect to hear from you?

I am really excited about this session because I find a manager comms strategy to be one of the most effective tools for creating alignment in an organization. I will share why, when and how to create a manager cascade and share strategies for success in highly matrixed organizations.

Join Alisha and other communications leaders at Ragan’s Strategic Communications Conference,when speakers from GoDayy, PepsiCo, Microsoft and more will share their ideas and success stories. Register today!


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