It is no secret that effective communication is key to being a successful leader. However, this essential skill is not something that is commonly taught in our educational system or fully understood and practiced at a level that will evoke genuine change and understanding. Those who have mastered the art and skill of communication are admired, respected and tend to have healthier and stronger relationships.
I once heard someone say, if you have to tell someone how to appear as though they are listening, then they are not genuinely listening. Surface level behaviors and strategies like making eye contact, displaying open body language, nodding, etc., are not going to take your communication to the next level.
If you genuinely want to make an impact on your communication as a leader, here are five things to become aware of and apply:
1. Develop your emotional intelligence, starting with self-awareness.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to develop awareness, understanding, and control over our emotions, to have an accurate perception of how others perceive us, and our ability to effectively communicate and empathize with others. Why is this important? Because we can easily get stuck in our own heads while communicating. We may allow our current mood to alter how we deliver a message, miss social cues from the listener, or misinterpret the message of another based on our perception and internal dialogue.
To develop your self-awareness, you can ask yourself a question like:
- What am I feeling? How might my emotions be affecting how I’m delivering or interpreting a message?
- While listening, am I fully present, or are my thoughts distracting me?
- What is my objective when communicating or listening? Is it to prove a point, to inform, or learn?
- Is my message clear, or am I leaving out key details that my listener will fill in, perhaps inaccurately?
- Am I approaching the conversation with compassion and genuine understanding, or with defensiveness, contempt, and hostility?
- Am I in a state to have this conversation, or do I need to take some time to mentally prepare myself?
2. Be sure your message is not getting lost behind strong emotions.
If we are experiencing frustration, anger, fear, or any strong unpleasant emotion, we can say things that we may not mean or package our message in a way that is counterproductive to the results we are trying to achieve.
For example: If you are stressed from managing a crisis, and an employee comes to you with a request or question, you may react by saying something like, “I can’t deal with your problems right now; you need to figure it out or find another job.” What you may have been trying to convey is this, “At the moment, I do not have the mental capacity to help you.”
3. Seek to learn something from every conversation.
As leaders, we can trick ourselves into thinking we know more about a subject than we really do. Regardless of who you are speaking with, approach the conversation with curiosity instead of always being the expert in the room. You may be surprised at what you learn. If you do feel the urge to speak, try to instead pose an insight (nonleading) question to dive a bit deeper into the conversation.
4. Know your role in the conversation and its format.
Not all conversations are created equal. Dialog, for example, is intended to be equal parts listening and speaking for everyone involved in the conversation, without interruption. Yet, in certain situations, your role will weigh more heavily on either speaking (i.e., teaching, delivering a message, or informing), while in other situations, your role will consist of being the listener (i.e., interpreting, questioning, learning).
Communication is not simply about speaking; it is about effectively conveying a message or idea and accurately interpreting and understanding the message or idea of another.
5. Learn the communication style of other effective Leader and Communicator
The old saying, “treat others how you wish to be treated,” does not apply here. Instead, we should communicate and treat others how they wish to be communicated to and treated. Some of us need all the details and time to step away and process the information that we’ve been provided, while others want nothing more than a high-level overview and the bullet points. Not being aware of the communication styles of others can cause us unnecessary stress and miscommunication.
The DISC assessment is a great way to understand the communication style of others. Or, you can simply ask someone what communication style they prefer, and equally share your communication needs and expectations.
Remember, being an effective leader and communicator is not about always having the answer and being the first and last to speak. Being an effective leader and communicator is your ability to provide a space for innovation, collaboration, and understanding.