Recently, I talked with a mentee about his new developmental goal, which aimed to improve some specific aspects of his communication skills as a leader. As we talked, I offered a few perspectives about communication, which started off by discussing the three strategies to help structure our messages.
But as we explored those strategies, I found that I kept referring to a few key considerations to help shape our messages as leaders. These considerations applied to all types of communication, whether we are issuing guidance or helping others gain perspective and see the bigger picture, via verbal or written communication, and to any intended audience.
Though I do not espouse myself as an expert communicator by any means, I do rely on these five considerations to help organize my thoughts as I craft messages and be considerate in how I communicate to my intended audience. I believe they apply broadly and will help you be a communicator in any leadership role you fill.
So, let’s explore these five considerations to better communication.
Make It Clear and Simple
Even when employing the strategies of macro-to-micro, organizing like file folders, or using the bottom line up front, our communication can still become overly complicated and too robust. I always use clear and simple as the litmus tests for my communication. I ask, “Does this makes sense to someone who has no context? Does this have a clear and logical flow?”
How many points are you planning to make in your argument to your boss? More is not necessarily better. How many “folders” are you using to organize your instructions to your team? I’ve found that more than four to five leads to information overload.
As you organize your communication, emphasize clarity and simplicity.
Overly contriving arguments or intentionally omitting important information will impact your communication negatively in the long run. Like most other things related to leadership, others will easily see when you are not being forthright, honest, or authentic. If there is sensitive information you cannot disclose, come out and say that. Don’t try to hide or ignore information from others. Dancing around issues or being unwilling to engage in hard topics will be apparent to your audience. You’ll lose the essential foundation of what your communication is built on – credibility and trust.
Don’t be afraid to share your reality with others.
Is there an impending and significant change coming to your organization that you need to prepare your team for? Maybe you were not fully informed of the purpose of the change yourself. So, how do you communicate this change, why it’s occurring, and how it will occur if you’re not fully equipped with that knowledge yourself?
As leaders, we have a responsibility to create and then communicate that context, even if we don’t receive it ourselves. You’re the leader – you will always have some context and assessment on what’s going on. Don’t be afraid to own your message and give your assessment on why things are changing, why it matters, and what we are going to do as a result. Leaders fill voids and seams. And your people will appreciate that you are willing to step up and provide them what they need.
Placing blame or responsibility on some higher headquarters or external entity does not communicate that you are in control or that you care. It certainly does not instill confidence in others. Don’t shy away from sharing what you know, be transparent (see above) about what you don’t know, and be clear about what you (and we) are going to do.
Always Speak with Empathy
Be considerate and thoughtful in your messages. Be wary of assumptions you make in your comments. Even if you have to communicate hard or disappointing truths, that doesn’t mean it must be done with harsh or aloof methods. Put care into how you craft your messages. Ask yourself, “If my boss were to share this message with me, how would I feel?”
And always allow space for others to ask questions, express concern or frustration, and to be heard during (or at least after) your communication. You will not fail when you invite others to participate in the process.
Be Cautious of Assumptions and Jargon
I recently had a colleague, a peer, who would unintentionally make me feel very uninformed in nearly every conversation I had with him. He would use acronyms and jargon that I did not know, presuming I did. His comments were regularly built on assumptions that I knew details of the issue, though I did not. I almost felt dumb after talking with him. And that ultimately impacted my sense of belonging on the team. Was I not keeping up with the team? Do I not know enough or am I not doing enough? I quickly began to feel like an outsider after those conversations.
Do we unintentionally create the same feelings in others when we talk to them? Do we subconsciously communicate on assumptions or use overly complicated language? Doing so can lead to others focusing more on their insecurities than on the topic at hand.
In his book, Call Sign Chaos, former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis says, “If you can’t talk freely with the most junior members of your organization, then you’ve lost touch.” I aim to try and craft my messages or correspondence like I am communicating to the most junior person on my team. When doing so, we are not talking down to others or insulting their intelligence. We are removing barriers to shared understanding, eliminating distractions or below-the-waterline worry, and allowing everyone involved to feel just that – involved and like they belong. This allows each member of the team to focus on the issue at hand and not on internal issues of lying, hiding, or faking to not look dumb to others.
You can’t lead if you can’t communicate. There is a science to communicating well – how you structure your messages to be clear, compelling, and understood. We explore a lot of tactical, how-to points in this piece, which is the point. It is often easy to talk about the need to be an effective communicator as a leader. It is much different – and harder – to detail ways that we can in fact become more effective communicators. I hope the strategies shared earlier and these considerations resonate and enable you to successfully adapt them to your own authentic ways of communicating as a leader.
Lead, and communicate, well.
If you find this post helpful, subscribe to receive weekly email notifications of new content!