As published in Columbia Business Times’ December 23rd, 2010 issue:
One of the key success factors of any organization is communication. In our diagnostic studies of people and organizations, it’s typically one of the critical areas that needs the most improvement. Although the list of tools and tips on this subject is long and varied, I will share just a few here.
Communication is the honest and sincere exchange of information, concepts and ideas. Honest and sincere communication is a two-way discussion through which the intent is to reach a solid agreement. All extraordinary leaders master the skills involving communication because the straight truth is that effective communication takes a lot of discipline and focus.
Communication is comprised of two parts
Part one: Transmitting
Many leaders mistakenly believe this is the only part of communicating. I’ve personally made this mistake many times. I believed I had communicated when I had only transmitted the message. Achieving clarity and frequency of the message is critical to communication.
The questions you should always ask yourself regarding transmission:
• Have I effectively established the impact, meaning and purpose of my message?
• Have I made clarity a priority?
• Have I made it clear that I welcome input and feedback regarding my message and that my intent is to reach alignment?
Part two: Receiving
The questions you should always ask yourself regarding receiving:
• Was the message received and understood?
• Was the response I received what I expected?
• Did I eliminate all assumptions?
Too much focus on the negative
One of the most effective things a leader can provide for the people who follow them is hope. You provide hope by being relentlessly positive and realistic about the situation communicated. For most people, if no positive input is interjected into a negative situation, and they are left on their own to interpret the situation, their default thinking is usually negative. This is one of the reasons why leadership is so important.
I often think about a leader such as George Washington in a situation like that at Valley Forge, with death all around him and conditions worsening. Washington had no alternative but to find a way to offer hope to his troops to get them through one of the most difficult situations in America’s history and ultimately win the war that birthed the greatest nation on Earth.
No return of phone calls or e-mail
The perception that followers, vendors, customers and others have of leaders is so important. Unfortunately, leaders lie on their voicemails all the time. It’s sad, but “please leave a message, and I’ll get back to you” is often untrue. Not only is it just plain courteous to call someone back who leaves a message or e-mails you, but not responding also allows the default negative thinking to take hold and affect your personal brand leadership image.
It can be frustrating when you’re trying to listen to someone who makes illogical leaps in his or her dialog. Avoid making quick changes of subjects in mid-stream and expecting people to automatically follow. Remember, when transmitting, you must use discipline and focus with your message.
Non-congruent tone of desired message
See how many ways you can say, “I can’t believe you did that,” and this one will be crystal clear.
Lack of patience and discipline in listening to others
This is the biggie. How often have we been so passionate about our position that we could not, or just flat out refused to, listen to others’ perspectives?
Sometimes the enthusiasm to dispute the anticipated rebuttal to our position is just too strong to hold at bay. When we lost the honest and sincere exchange component, we diminished the success factor of communication. One way to get this under control is to make notes of what the other person is saying prior to responding. We must respect others’ right to say what’s on their mind, even if it’s incorrect.
Focus on these skills will yield better communication for you and your team and thereby improve overall results. Remember to focus only on one at a time, master it, and pick another to work on until you are communicating with clarity and achieving great results.