What? You’ve never thought about a communications role model? Just like you have sport, fashion, professional, or familial role models, I recommend you identify a communications role model. Think about those people you admire most. Maybe it’s a football player who displays great sportsmanship by offering a helping hand to the guy he just bulldozed. Perhaps you like the quirky way a particular actress mixes and matches her wardrobe pieces. You could love the precision of a Martha Stewart holiday or be drawn to the beautiful mess of your aunt’s wild kitchen experiments. I encourage you to go through the same process in regard to communication. Look around your world at your officemates, your management team, business gurus, the characters on your favorite TV shows, your friends and family: who among them demonstrates your version of an excellent communicator?

What, exactly, is it that appeals to you about his or her communication style and techniques? Take some time to figure out exactly what it is about the way your communications role model conducts herself in conversation and/or confrontation. Does she use artful assertiveness, humor, or smart turns of phrase? Does she exhibit grace under pressure, accessibility, rock solid boundaries? When you can articulate the admirable behaviors of your communications role model, you are naming what you value. Your values, and thus your role model, will be dependent on your role in the world but you needn’t confine yourself to your own industry or area of expertise when it comes to finding an appropriate role model. Often, looking outside your own microcosm can provide the greatest benefits.

Your selection of role model(s) may also provide insight into the areas in which you can improve. If you find yourself amazed by a peer’s ability to make a big request without flinching, confidently decline a request to work late, neutralize a bully, or diminish workplace drama, you may have found an instructive role model. You can observe the way s/he handle situations that may make you squirm, take metal notes on specific words or approaches, and begin to integrate those elements into your own communications style.

If you struggle with a particular kind of communication such as public speaking, negotiating, or delegating, seek out examples of these things being done well. You can always attend a class or engage a coach but many people find observing a master at work a better way to learn. Does the idea of presenting make you queasy? Go watch a TED Talk and note the tools the speaker uses to make a point. Perhaps it’s humor or statistics, metaphor or self-deprecation. Need pointers on negotiating? Find a salesperson or fundraiser you admire and watch him work. If handing out assignments is a struggle for you, observe someone in your world who has an army of willing soldiers at the ready. What words does she use? How does she engage with those she manages? You can adopt and adapt any of these tools to fit your own needs and your own style.

Role models are examples. They provide illustrations of the way things can be done. Unlike a mentor, you needn’t ever have a direct relationship with a role model to benefit from his or her experience and wisdom. Effectively employing a communications role model only requires that you have the self-awareness to pursue a higher level of communication, the power of observation, and the desire to continue improving. Over time, your role models will change as you evolve and master new skills. As you progress on your communication journey, consider both what kind of communications role model you want and what kind of communications role model you want to be.