Everything I Know About Communication I Could Have Learned From Country Music

Do you like country music? I used to hate it. Every time it came on the radio, I turned the station. At least I used to until my 16-year-old son started listening to it. That’s been a good thing because now I see how much country music and good communication have in common.

Whether it’s at home or at work, good communication is about creating connections. When this happens, you touch a chord that is personal and real. Your audience is there with you, feeling what you feel, thinking what you’re thinking. For just a moment, they have stepped into your shoes. This is when you prevail over everything else and for at least a moment or two, this connection is everything. That’s what country music does by using heartfelt emotion, simplicity and a relatable story.

Let’s break it down.

Tell a story. If you want your audience to relate to your message, tell a story.  When you’re done, your audience should say: “That could be me,” or “I’ve been there,” or “I want to be that person.”  When the audience emotionally connects with your story and sees your humanity, your message makes more sense and sticks. Have you heard Miranda Lambert’s The House that Built Me?  This was a mega hit about longing to go back to the place she grew up and the memories it holds. “I promise I won’t take nothing but a memory.” Can’t we all relate to the pull of simpler times? The magic of this song is that the story is so vivid you experience it for yourself.

Your story can be serious or funny, but it must be relatable and emotionally honest. If you’re going to use a story as a central part of your communication, you need to know it cold and practice it in front of others you trust. Ask for their feedback to see if it’s having the impact and meaning you’re going for. Your story can be a powerful moment for your audience and by developing it you will accelerate your growth as a communicator. (For an example of how storytelling was used in a blog, read this one. How we can add value and grow with the company.)

Hook ’em. Have you ever had a song you can’t get out of your mind? You want to stop thinking about it, but you can’t. The hook keeps running through your brain. Country music uses great hooks. This communication tool isn’t self-conscious; it doesn’t try to be intellectual. It’s simple and you get it right away. Maybe you’ve heard Roger Miller’s old school, King of the Road? If you haven’t, this is a story of a guy down on his luck but chooses to revel in his freedom and independence. The music is catchy and the line you will remember is just four words – King of the Road.  It pulls you right in. The best hooks are easy to say and easy to remember. Brevity is powerful.

What are your “hooks” when communicating? While they may not be as colorful as Roger Miller’s, your hook can be just as effective. What theme or action do you want them to focus on? Summarize it in a few simple, repeatable words and use it over and over. Jim Collins did this when he titled his book Good to Great. It takes effort to find just the right phrase, but when you nail it, it’s yours and it pays.

Simplicity. If it takes a lot of words, complicated slides or too much explaining, you’re lost before you started. In Love Like Crazy, Lee Brice sings, “Be a best friend, tell the truth and overuse I love you.”  Don’t these simple phrases just make sense? It’s the basics of life summed up in a few easy phrases. How do you use simplicity to your advantage in the corporate world? Focus on the essentials; pare out extra words and phrases; nix the corporate jargon; talk like a human being. Think about how you like to be communicated with and use that to re-frame your own efforts.

From the heart. Perhaps the biggest draw of country music is the emotional connection of talking straight from the heart. This isn’t for every situation in corporate life, but there are times when a heartfelt message is appropriate and meaningful. Be open to sharing your vulnerable side and show people your humanity and empathy for others. This builds respect and invites people to listen. They see you are human and are treating them the same way. For this example, I like Ring of Fire written by June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore. You can feel the angst of June and Johnny falling in love. It’s honest, tells a story and it’s clearly from the heart. It still one of best known country songs in the world and it was written in 1963.

Do you want to up your communication skills? Country music may not be your thing, but there’s a reason it’s so popular. Challenge yourself by trying some of these tips. Take something you want to communicate and use one or two of these approaches. See how your communication changes when you simplify, be human or tell a story. Watch how people respond when you and your audience connect.

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About the author


Gretchen Rosswurm is vice president of global corporate communications and corporate social responsibility at Celanese, a global chemical company in Dallas. Throughout her career, she has advised leaders on communication strategies to enhance employee engagement and improve business results. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering in the community, playing Words With Friends and writing short fiction.

There are 13 comments. Add yours.

  1. Phil Wilson says:

    All good lessons Gretchen and here is one more: Be Clear About What You Want – It is usually better to be told ‘No’ than to not ask at all, even when ‘Yes’ is not guaranteed. Or, sometimes, in the words of Mary Chapin Carpenter, “It’s too much to expect, but it’s not too much to ask.”

    • gretchen says:

      That’s true, most country songs are clear about what’s wanted, even if it’s just a beer and a day at the beach. Thanks for reading the blog.

  2. Giacomo says:

    Great post Gretchen ! Fully agree, … music teaches a lot about communication efficiency. Also in business text needs to be meaningful, straight to the point, easy to understand and remember … unfortunately we can’t use the music to complete the message, basically the hook its harder to frame there. Back to music styles, I also love country for its transparent simplicity, likewise the blues, which simple chords are unique in getting people together and jamming….a powerful team builder.

    • gretchen says:

      Giacomo, a talented songwriter can convey so much in a few words and the music reinforces the feeling the writer is going for. Music is a powerful tool and one we should keep in our toolbox. Thanks for reading!

  3. Perry Aliotti says:

    Great analogies Gretchen. Such a winning formula for communications.

    I might add that strong messages are best repeated numerous times to be sure they sink in. The tag lines in the chorus are repeated at least four times to really be sure they stick.

    One final note, if you play your country records in reverse, you can get your truck back, your job back, your girlfriend/boyfriend back and your dog is raised from the dead.

    • gretchen says:

      Perry, this is true, repetition and consistency is vital to effective communication – that’s where music can reinforce an idea and a feeling very quickly.

  4. Caitlin McCoy says:

    Great blog post, Gretchen. I enjoyed reading this. Heart-felt, vulnerable communication is a treasure in any context! Thanks for sharing.

    • gretchen says:

      Hi Caitlin, heart felt and real communication is especially important when it’s a tough conversation and that’s usually when we most want to hold back. We could write a song about that 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  5. Randy Wilson says:

    Something for everyone in this blog: effective communications, openness to new ideas, and the power of diversity. The brilliance of your blog has application in work and life. Thanks!

  6. Susan Rahe says:

    Great message, Gretchen. Helpful! I especially like that you used the phrase “Hook ’em” – for those in our Texas Longhorn community!

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