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How Poor Communication Will Scupper Your Chances of Success

How is it possible to go from a leader in your field to an unemployable laughing stock in the space of one job?

Four years ago, Fabio Capello was rightly seen as one of Europe’s top managers – the best in his niche on the whole continent. And now he’s a joke.

Why? Because of communication.

It doesn’t matter how good you are in your field – if you can’t communicate with your clients, you’re in big trouble. So pull up a seat, grab your Italian phrasebook and prepare to take a lesson in communications from the former England Manager.

Lessons You Should Learn from Fabio Capello

Strangely, it’s not Capello’s successes you need to learn from. It’s his mistakes.

By any reasonable measure, before 2008 Fabio Capello was one of the leaders in his field. His CV speaks for itself. 17 years’ management experience at top European football clubs such as AC Milan and Real Madrid. Four Italian league titles and a Champions League win.

But now, in the UK at least, he’s going to be remembered as a laughing stock, despite his years of success. And that’s going to affect his future job prospects.

So if you want to succeed in the long term, you’re going to need to learn where ‘Don Fabio’ went wrong.

You Need to Speak the Language

In Capello’s case, his problem was literally due to a language barrier. As a fluent Italian-speaker with very little English, he was always going to struggle in discussions with the FA, his playing staff, and the media. His inability to make himself understood was always going to cause problems.

The same applies to you. If you’re not speaking your client’s language, then you’re in a world of trouble. It doesn’t matter that you’re both speaking English; if you’re talking about ROIs, KPIs and the importance of an integrated search & social campaign in multiple verticals isn’t going to make any sense to a client who’s looking to ‘sell a few more handmade bead decorations on the side, like‘.

Tailor your voice and your vocabulary to suit your client, or else you’ll instantly put a barrier up between you and them.

And that’s going to make trusting each other very difficult. It’ll mean that you won’t trust them to back you on the big decisions, and they won’t trust you when you explain that Robert Green is a better number one than Joe Hart.

You Need to Manage Expectations

Capello isn’t a stupid man. His record proves that. He would have known that a team built around aging and injury ridden players like Gerrard, and unstable unreliable younger players like Rooney wasn’t going to put England in the same bracket as Spain’s pass-masters or Germany’s dynamic young side. He’d have known that the 2010 World Cup would result in a quarter final appearance at best.

And he was completely and utterly unable to communicate that fact to a media hell-bent on claiming that the English football team are the rightful champions elect of every competition from the World Cup to the Woking U16’s League Trophy. This led to increased expectations, and a huge stick to beat Capello with after England’s second round exit to the third best football team in the world.

This same mismatch of expectations will destroy your relationship with your clients too. Not every single company has it in them to be the market leader, or the top result on Google for a one-word search term. Size, budget and quality all play a part.

But if you can’t explain to a client that they can’t topple Microsoft with the computing equivalent of Emile Heskey in their arsenal, then your client might start to assume that they can.

So when you don’t deliver that unbelievably unlikely success, it won’t matter how solid your reasons are. You’ll be subjected to poor reviews on every website, directory and forum.

It’s Not Enough to Rely on Success

Fabio Capello won a higher percentage of games than Sir Alf Ramsey or Sir Bobby Robson. Yet he’s doomed to be spoken of in the same tones as Graham “The Turnip” Taylor and Kevin “Phil Neville at left back? Are you serious, you permed clot?” Keegan.


Because despite having the best record of any England manager in terms of games won, he was completely unable to explain to his employers or the media that his inability to deliver a World Cup trophy wasn’t an unforgiveable failure.

The communications barrier and mismatch of expectations brought about by Capello’s inability to speak to the language doomed him from the start. With no trust between him and the people paying his wages, and no way of explaining that we was delivering as much as possible with the resources available, the pressure on him increased, and his job became more difficult.

Just because you think you’re doing a great job for a client doesn’t mean that they do. And just because you can prove you’re doing a good job won’t matter if that doesn’t match up with the objectives in your client’s head.

A failure to communicate will poison any relationship from the start. So once it’s clear that you’re not speaking the same language, it’s time to walk away.

If It’s Going Wrong, You Need to Know When to Run

The time for Fabio Capello to walk away would’ve been after England’s 4-1 defeat to a far better drilled, younger and technically superior Germany side in the 2010 World Cup.

By hanging on until 2012, Capello merely made his problems worse. His inability to communicate meant that the FA’s decision to remove the England captaincy from an adulterous racist would always be seen as undermining Capello. His inability to manage expectations would mean that a near-flawless qualifying campaign for a competition England had failed to reach four years previously would be written off by press and fans alike. And the pressure on him would increase until his situation became untenable.

By only walking away 18 months after he should have, Fabio Capello has given an unreasonable FA and press carte blanche to write off his achievements and cast doubt upon his abilities. And his communications problems give him no real way of defending himself.

If you persist in continuing a relationship with a client you can’t communicate with, you’ll find yourself in the same boat. 18 months down the line, you’ll be faced with attacks on social networks, forums and review sites. Your reputation will take a hammering, and you’ll need to work harder to secure new work.

But unlike Fabio Capello, you won’t have what’s left of a £6 million per year contract to tide you over. So you might want to work on your communication skills now.

Before it’s too late.

Andrew Nattan is Communications manager at FirstFound, the UK’s leading Search Engine Consultancy. He’s also involved with FirstFound’s Optimise Magazine.

Author: Andrew Nattan
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