What’s the difference that makes the difference? What is it that some leaders do that others don’t? Why are some leaders more effective than others? It turns out, it’s not the MBA or the PhD. Nor is it the title on the door or even the years of experience. Ultimately, it’s something much more intangible than that: It’s all about HOW they communicate. What they say, what they don’t say, how they say it, what they believe, their temperament and even eye contact can make a huge difference in how they are perceived. Whether we want to or not, we are always “saying” something- we are always communicating even when we’re not saying a word.
So how can you improve your effectiveness through communication? This is a subtle, yet critical part of your leadership package. It is not taught in school, though it should be, and unfortunately there aren’t many role models in the workplace (yet!).
In an effort to make your life easier, and to give you practical easy-to-understand tips for being a more effective communicator, let’s focus on the following FIVE skills:
Listening, truly listening, and not just HEARING is a powerful way to communicate. Yes, you can actually communicate when your mouth is shut. Learning to listen needs to be taught because as humans, we are naturally egocentric and need attention. We want to be heard (see next topic). We want to share our ideas, make contributions, and demonstrate what we know. And we often do this by talking. And frequently, interrupting.
Learning to listen requires that you focus 100% on the other person. It is not about you; it is all about them. No matter what you have to offer to the conversation, listen without interruption. More importantly, listen without judgment or an agenda. This is not as easy as it sounds.
How to ACTIVELY listen:
- Select a place where you won’t be interrupted, shut down all mobile devices and develop and maintain eye contact.
- Set your intention: plan on being in receiving mode, not in advisory mode. When you truly listen, your only objective is to fully understand the other person’s position.
- Take notes: write down thoughts so you’re not thinking about them in hope of remembering them.
- Ask questions to fully understand and enable the person to fully explore their point of view. Some people do their thinking when they talk. Before responding, ask if they want your input! Yes, ASK before you jump in. Not everyone wants your opinion, but they DO want to be heard.
When you listen, REALLY listen, you honor the person in front of you. And you broaden your frame of mind by learning a new or different perspective. This is how you become more flexible in your leadership presence.
VALIDATE AND APPRECIATE
Nothing is more painful to the ego than not being “seen” or recognized for your talents. It erodes your self-esteem and consequently, your productivity. When leaders embrace this simple human need, and apply 1 minute of effort to fill this need, amazing things can happen.
How to validate and appreciate:
Validating and appreciating someone is one of the most gratifying for both you and the person who’s efforts you are recognizing. It’s fast, free and easy. You can do it in person (best!) or even in an email (ok). When you go to the effort to hand write a note (very special!) the ROI is palpable. Go ahead, try this today and notice the difference in that relationship.
As a leader, the only way to help others is by letting go, so others can grow. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you give someone something to do, that you are actually letting go. To truly let go requires faith, communication, and a point in time when you will circle back and review.
Be sure to you follow all three of these important parts, because one missed step can create chaos, uncertainty, and the desire to take all the work back again.
Faith: If you don’t believe the person can take on a task or responsibility, chances are they know it and will live up to those low expectations! Evidence of this powerful (silent) communication is demonstrated in the term “Pygmalion Effect”. This term refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people – often children or students and employees – the better they perform. People tend to live up to what’s expected of them and they tend to do better when treated as if they are capable of success. So faith is your first step to truly letting go.
Communication: Be sure to spend enough time with the individual to fully transfer the task or responsibility. Make sure to share these six categories:
- Why is this task is important? How does it fit into the bigger picture; how have you done it in the past or how would you like it done; when is it due; who needs to be a part of the process; and finally, check for understanding. Make sure that they feel safe in coming back to you for clarification. This can be done simply by the tone of your voice.
Review: Make sure you set a date and time to review the effort. Without review, even if it is just acknowledging the work, you will not be in a position to decide when to let go again. Reviewing is the fastest way to get to Faith, because you can correct, compliment or agree on how the project/task went.
We all need it, most of us want it, some of us crave it, and it is hard to grow without it. So why is this communication technique so underutilized? Because sometimes it’s painful to receive feedback.
It’s human nature to avoid conflict (although not exclusively), and in the past we may have been given feedback in a crude or unskilled manner that deflated us rather than inspired us. So we think feedback is bad. We avoid giving it, because the only model you have had to follow was painful.
What if you could learn to give feedback in a way that was constructive, inspiring and even measurable? Whether it is for great performance (see validate and appreciate above), corrective/constructive skills development, or non-compliant behavioral feedback, we all benefit from this information. Every great leader knows how to do this and can use this communication skill every week.
When you choose to engage non-performing team members in the feedback conversation, you will get insights to the root cause of the lack of understanding. You have the opportunity to truly change their lives for the better. Learning this skill can save you hours of anxiety and frustration with underperformers, and enable you to create loyalty with your high performers.
One of the most common concerns I hear in companies is lack of communication. Many leaders believe that if they tell their employees something once, it will be understood. This is far from the truth, especially when it comes to communicating a change.
In addition, we all learn differently. Some of us capture the gist of the message with a single conversation. However, most of us need the double-decker communication sandwich:
Conversation + Visual + Conversation
And we need it more than once.
Consider all mediums: email, text, phone, face-to-face, impromptu and planned. Printed, verbal and visual expression of the same message may seem redundant to you, but trust me when I tell you, repetition is the key to success. (How many times in your life did you tell your children to brush their teeth? Point made).
Communicate often and using different mediums does not take more time…it saves you time, energy and frustration in the long run.
Try this the next time you want to get a point across. And if you want, let me test it for you! As a communication expert, I can critique your delivery methods and guide you to a better message.
Which of the 5 Communication Skills Every Effective Leader Uses Daily will you use today? And which will you try tomorrow? Take a moment right now and put these five tips in your calendar to “try on” in the next 5 to 10 days. Otherwise these ideas may get wrapped up in the folder you file this report in. Don’t miss the opportunity to be a better communicator, starting today!
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