Communication is not as simple as one person speaking and the other person listening.
In business and in your personal life, clear communication leads to success and understanding. Here’s how to develop leadership communication skills you can draw on at any time.
What Does Clear Communication Mean?
Clear communication happens when the message you intend to convey is the same as the message the person you’re speaking to receives. Communicating clearly improves efficiency and reduces frustration and misunderstanding. It can also pave the way for more harmonious working relationships.
What Messages Are You Giving Out?
Think about it. Have you ever approached someone at work to discuss an issue and they’ve half-heartedly listened to you while just carrying on with what they’re doing?
How did that make you feel? Like you were unimportant and a nuisance to them? Sadly, what’s missing here is interpersonal skills, particularly around communication.
Communication is vital to building relationships and getting the best outcome for your business. Most of us have had our emails or our verbal conversations misunderstood, and it may have created issues. That’s because we don’t always stop and reflect on what messages we’re giving out.
I’ve had people say to me that there was ‘a tone’ in the email or text message I sent them! When I read over what I’d sent, the majority of the time it was because I’d been very to the point and business-like. I used to get feedback that my emails were too focused on business and needed some personal elements in them. It took me ages to understand that good communication is about conveying warmth and interest in the other party. Now I shudder when I see other people doing the same.
We are all different in how we absorb and interpret information. When communicating, we need to use clues to find out more about the other person’s preferred communication style. One way you can do this is to listen to the language they use. This will often tell you whether they are a visual, feeling, or hearing type of person.
Develop Leadership Communication Skills- Improving Your Approach
So communication can be surprisingly hard. There’s a definite skill to it, and it doesn’t do any harm to stop and take time to reflect on your approach. Here are some tips on better communication that I’ve picked up along the way.
Active listening is so important. Don’t interrupt someone when they are speaking, and give them your undivided attention. Where there are silences, don’t feel the need to jump in. Pauses give the other person time to formulate their thoughts. They also give you the chance to get the information you may otherwise not have got. Once the person has finished speaking, paraphrase what they have said back to them to demonstrate that you were listening and show understanding.
Think about body language
Non-verbal cues like body language are powerful signals of what we are thinking and how we are feeling. As we grow up, most of us become adept at reading body language. Positive body language is essential for good communication. What would you think if you were talking to someone and they were looking at their mobile phone or sitting with their arms crossed?
Look at the other person’s body language for clues on whether they are taking on board what you are saying. Do they appear comfortable? Do they seem engaged and interested?
Of course, be aware of your own body language too. Keep it open, relaxed, and positive. Make good eye contact, and don’t fold your arms or roll your eyes, even if that’s what you feel like doing!
Most people like being asked questions about themselves or about their opinion on something. So it makes sense that if you need information, you should just ask!
Ask open questions- think ‘Why, What, How, and Describe.’
Ask questions to expand on what they are telling you to help your understanding and invite their opinion. This not only encourages better communication but it makes the other person feel valued.
Learn the person’s story
Ask the other person about their ideas, goals, and what they love doing. You might just be amazed at what you find out. Show empathy and give them your time. Remember that you never know what a person has been through or is going through. Being genuinely interested in the other person helps to build a mutually-beneficial relationship, and most importantly, it builds trust.
Never Underestimate the Importance of Trust in Communications
If you want to develop leadership communication skills, it pays to remember the importance of trust. So how do you build trust through communication?
A 2016 CMI survey of middle managers found that most respondents valued:
- Leaders who take the time to engage with everyone in the business;
- Leaders who keep people informed in an open and honest fashion;
- An ‘open door approach’ to ideas and concerns;
- Leaders who are highly visible and approachable.
While it’s just not possible for leaders to meet with every employee each day, it’s important that they are accessible for and respectful to, middle managers. That’s because this then cascades down to everyone else.
Unfortunately, when it comes to communication between the top, middle, and bottom of an organisation, there’s often a disconnect.
So what are the reasons for that?
Going back to the CMI survey, 67% of middle managers said there was a lack of employee trust in senior leaders. 64% also said they felt there was a lack of information from the top of the business.
Practical Tips for Improving Communication In Your Organisation
With that in mind, here are some tips on how you as a leader can set the pace for communication in the business.
Keep communications simple, relevant, and free from jargon. The goal is to use your communications to inspire, encourage, and rally everyone behind you and the wider business goals.
Connect with middle managers
Take the time to talk to your middle managers. This can look like informal chats or formal events based on two-way communication and interaction.
Manage by walking around
If you want to develop leadership communication skills, don’t underestimate the value of getting out from behind your desk. Going around and talking to managers and teams helps people feel valued and listened to. It can also help you keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on. If you get the chance, sit in the middle of the team when they are in the workplace as that often gives many insights.
Ask your staff
How well do you ‘do’ communication in your organisation? Do employees trust the leadership? There’s only one way to find out-ask! Employee surveys can be a great way to keep tabs on how well(or not) employees think these things are done in the business.
Adapt the way you communicate to what your organisation needs
So what if you’re a mammoth organisation, with teams and managers dotted here, there, and everywhere? You can still communicate well, you just need to use different strategies and adapt to what your organisation needs.
Mastering Remote Communication
Whether the pandemic kickstarted remote working for your organisation, or it’s been the norm for a while, how do you keep the communication going and keep everything running like clockwork?
For managers in charge of teams at a different site, in a different region, or even in a different country, there are always going to be challenges. Most of those challenges will centre around getting communications right.
My main advice is to be clear and transparent.
Remote communication is inherently tougher. We aren’t physically in the same place, so we don’t get to see those clues like body language and facial expressions.
That’s why it’s crucial that leaders set clear expectations, and constantly communicate the wider goals and values of the business, as well as the day-to-day ‘need to know.’
Are you ‘managing at a distance’ currently?
Here’s how to develop leadership communication skills for managing remotely.
Tailor your approach
Consider your team dynamic and what people’s needs might be. All kinds of things can get in the way of good remote communication from poor internet coverage to different time zones. Try to find ways of meeting employees’ needs and agree on how you’ll be able to get in touch with them and when. A backup plan is also a good idea and avoids the frustration of you not being able to reach a colleague when you need to.
When team members physically work together, a natural sense of ‘being a team’ can develop. However, for remote workers, you’ll need to come up with ways of bringing people together to communicate and collaborate.
Sending an email out to your team is okay for the odd thing, but it’s not the ideal medium if you need a timely response or you or your team need to know something in detail.
Using platforms like Microsoft Teams allows you to conduct meetings with employees whether they are at home or in the office. It also has a chat channel, which allows everyone to ask questions or talk about a particular topic without clogging up email inboxes. Teams is also great for sending out information and reminders.
When it comes to keeping everything on track, collaborating, and sharing information, a task management system like Trello is great. It provides an at-a-glance overview of tasks, projects, and processes and people can collaborate with each other on there. Much better than sending countless emails or spending extra time on the phone. Make use of cloud-based document-sharing software like Google Drive and Dropbox too, which are also excellent for sharing files and documents within your team. Microsoft Office 365 has SharePoint too.
Whatever platforms you use to collaborate and communicate, consider these things:
- How formal or informal does the communication need to be?
- Are you communicating with an individual or a large group of people?
- Do you need a quick response to your message or question?
- Do you need a platform that encourages participation and interaction?
In a remote working environment, you need to get this right because the platforms you choose will be the main way you communicate.
Be clear on what is and isn’t acceptable
Even if employees aren’t physically in the same place, they need to be clear on the behaviours and values they need to uphold. As a leader, you should clearly communicate guidelines on policies, values, and acceptable behaviours with your team, and ensure these are cascaded down through managers.
Build trust through 121’s
Don’t just fire off group messages or emails. Remote working can be extra challenging for some people, and you may find that individual employees need your support. Asking how people are rather than just checking on the progress of tasks goes a long way to helping you build trusting relationships.
Give feedback and seek it
Yearly performance appraisals probably won’t cut it with a remote workforce. Imagine allowing a problem to go undetected for that long. You can reduce the chance of issues if you give regular feedback to your team and give them the chance to discuss their progress more regularly.
You should also encourage team members to feedback to you on projects and share ideas and concerns. This can help you continuously improve and adapt what’s not working.
Recognise and reward good work
Motivation and engagement can be a struggle for remote teams. Recognising and rewarding a job well done can really help with flagging motivation and a lack of engagement. This can be as simple as sending someone a personal email or mentioning them in the company newsletter or sending a personal handwritten thank you card.
Deal with underperformance
This is one area where you need to develop leadership communication skills. Underperformance can go unnoticed when you aren’t physically working with someone. You can often miss out on the tell-tale signs that someone is disengaged or not happy.
Is someone missing deadlines, taking a lot of sick time, or turning up late to virtual meetings?
These can be signs that all is not well with them.
That’s why regular contact is so important.
Arrange a 1-2-1 to see if you can get to the bottom of things. This is not something to discuss over email; a telephone or video call is more appropriate. Offer support and work together to see if you can get things to improve. If it becomes clear that the issue is more serious, you may need to take a more formal approach and go down the disciplinary route. If you’d like some helpful pointers on carrying out a successful disciplinary while working remotely, take a look at my blog on the topic.
Communicating In a Time of Crisis
Good leadership skills can help you at any time, but they are especially important in times of crisis. Have you ever witnessed what happens when there’s a crisis at work? Immediately, the gossip starts and before you know it, it’s like Chinese whispers.
So what can you do as a leader to calm any panic or disquiet?
You need a strategy and a communication plan.
What is a Crisis Communication Plan?
A crisis communications plan should form part of your business continuity plan. It’s interesting how many small businesses don’t have one of these. But if you want to ensure your business doesn’t fold when things go wrong, it’s essential. The plan can cover anything from having your data backed up to what to do if your premises are flooded.
Formulating a Crisis Communication Plan
Form a crisis communications team
In large organisations, the team will likely consist of senior managers. In smaller businesses, it will usually be the owner and a key employee or a hired PR person. Specify these arrangements in your business continuity plan.
Decide who will be the spokesperson
Consider who is best placed to confidently share the business’s message. They will essentially become the ‘face’ of the business. Remember that it’s all about protecting the business’s reputation and limiting or preventing damage.
Consider potential scenarios and draft communications scripts for certain types of situations such as theft of data or temporary closure of your premises. Arrange training for your chosen spokesperson and make sure everyone in the business knows who the spokesperson is. It’s very important that everyone understands that only the spokesperson should be speaking to the media.
Draw up your plan
Your communication plan should include information on the following:
a. The type of crisis and what the cause of it was.
b. The depth of the crisis and how it will affect the business and the customer.
c. People who will be affected.
d. How long the issue is going to last.
e. What the response to the news is likely to be.
f. How the crisis will be solved.
g. Who has been informed, for example, the emergency services, government etc.
h. Who is covering other roles within the business continuity plan?
i. Who will be keeping the stakeholders informed?
j. What communications channels will be used?
It’s a good idea to also include a short synopsis on the business and how it works. This helps give the media any background they may not know.
Remember to keep the internal communication lines open
If you’ve worked hard to develop your leadership communication skills, this will become evident in times of crisis. Remember that it’s not just about external communication, you need to reassure your employees and provide a sense of continuity. You need to tell them things like whether they actually need to report to work, who to contact for information, and what they can say publicly. Be open, be honest, and be sure to refer any enquiries to your nominated spokesperson.
Keep communicating, and review your plan
After the crisis has been resolved, remember to keep communicating. It’s essential to show that things are under control and to protect the business’s reputation. People will be looking for reassurance that issues have been resolved and there are measures in place to stop them from happening again. Don’t forget to thank your employees for their help and patience, and thank your customers for their continued support.
Lastly, review what happened and how the crisis was handled and communicated. Were there any lessons to learn? As we’ve learned from the last few years, a crisis could happen at any time and it pays to be prepared.
Want to Develop Powerful Leadership Communication Skills That Will Help You At Any Time?
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In the last few years, managers have had to deal with their fair share of curveballs. Maybe you’ve had to deal with things you’ve never dealt with before like:
Managing a remote team.
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