HOW TO COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY AS A LEADER
Good communication skills are a prerequisite for any successful leader.
Yet many leaders seem to struggle to deliver clear messages, inspire others, or even listen well.
Some may have good speaking skills but create confusion with conflicting directives. Others may be excellent technical writers but fail to inspire with upbeat presentations.
To excel at both written and verbal communication requires some self-awareness, motivation, skill-building, and practice.
Here are 10 strategies for communicating more effectively as a leader:
1) Be clear on what your messages are
The biggest obstacle to effective communication is not really knowing the content of your message well enough. Know what you really believe and arm yourself with appropriate data and facts.
Ensure that you are crystal clear on your most strategic messages, which often are your vision, mission, values, strategies, goals, and operating principles. Write them down and review them regularly.
Even if you have professional writers who help you create key presentations or speeches and refine some of your wording, you must be clear on the ideas in your mind if you are going to be confident delivering any messages.
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2) Be consistent and authentic
The quickest way to create confusion and destroy trust is to present conflicting information or messages that don’t seem genuine. Be honest and direct in all your communication. Think about how your words relate to other strategies, previous presentations, established policies, etc. Try to anticipate any areas of inconsistency and address them proactively.
3) Reinforce messages in digestible sizes and multiple formats
Recognize that people often need to hear messages more than once and can only absorb a certain amount of information at a time. Break things down into manageable segments. Deliver the content in a variety of formats whenever possible. This could include voice messages, presentations, one-page cheat sheets, emails, short videos, or even text messages. Be prepared to provide more details to those that need it or prefer it.
4) Be as transparent as possible about key decisions, company news, etc.
By being as open as possible with information, leaders build more trust and ensure that employees have the context and facts to make good decisions and do their job well. When you demonstrate confidence in your people to handle sensitive or critical information responsibly, you send a powerful message. In addition, the more information your team has about company news, strategies, issues, policies, etc., they will be better prepared for more responsibility.
5) Be available and open to feedback
The most successful leaders recognize that they need vital information about what’s going on in the business, levels of employee satisfaction, how their messages and strategies are being perceived, etc. For this to work, leaders must be comfortable receiving negative or constructive information. Set a good example by asking for input and being non-defensive to criticism or suggestions. Avoid isolating yourself from honest feedback from your people.
6) Hone your questioning and listening skills
Doing a good job of speaking and writing is only half the equation of great communication skills. To be most effective, leaders need to master the art of asking good questions and listening carefully.
A large part of a leader’s role is to diagnose issues, make decisions, and contribute to solutions. The best way to get more information for these tasks is to ask questions and effectively listen for useful information. Encourage more discussion by asking, “What are your thoughts on this?” “What else should we consider?” “What else would be helpful for me to know?”
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7) Use language and examples that your audience relates to
As a leader, it is necessary to communicate with a variety of audiences at various levels and with different backgrounds. Think about what existing knowledge your audience has and tailor the amount of technical language or jargon you use appropriately.
Be especially sensitive when talking to people outside your industry or company that may not know certain acronyms, software names, etc. that you commonly use. Use examples that your audience is likely to relate to or have personal experience with. Avoid using too many analogies or metaphors or over-relying on one type, such as from sports or medicine.
8) Include key takeaways, next steps, and what’s in it for them
People need to hear the “so what” of your message. Show how what you are saying applies to them and what, if anything, they need to do next. Outline any specific action steps. Ideally, keep it to 2-3 things, or a maximum of 5 points. Distill down your bottom line so that it’s simple and memorable.
Keep in mind that you want your message to not only be informational, but hopefully motivational as well.
It’s one thing to just deliver facts and next steps clearly, but another thing entirely to get people to see a personal benefit that motivates them. Whenever possible, try to connect the dots between what is going on or what needs to be done with how this can positively impact an employee’s job, pay, work, time off, etc.
9) Be human and humble
In the busyness of day-to-day work, it can be easy to get caught up in communicating just the facts and leaving yourself out of the equation. But to truly build connection with the people you lead and work with, it’s vital that they see you as human.
Make it a point to share anecdotes about your personal life, your dreams, mistakes, etc. whenever it can be weaved into your communications appropriately. That being said, don’t overdo it. Remember to stay humble and focus on the listener and the message. Avoid overuse of “I” and try to use “we” more frequently.
10) Invest in presentation skills coaching
The most polished public speakers have usually had some professional training to hone their public speaking skills.
This training is most effective when it includes videotaped practice that is played back for you to watch and then feedback is given.
While a variety of topics can be included, the most comprehensive training often covers audience analysis, structuring content, body language, vocal cord warm-ups and maintenance, use of microphones and teleprompters, and preparedness for different venues (i.e., podiums, stages, boardrooms with speakerphones, etc.).
In addition, good training covers the distinctions between informational vs. inspirational speaking situations and useful strategies for audience engagement. This helps the leader adjust his/her style effectively depending on whether the occasion is a staff meeting, sales presentation, motivational speech, university guest lecture, or something else.
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