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How to Communicate Like a Leader

Right message.

Right way.

Right time.

That’s the essence to #communicate effectively, which is far and away — FAR AND AWAY — the No. 1 issue that comes up in my coaching work. I was also (in a former life) a PR/communications executive, so I’ve seen essentially every type of communication issue out there.

But it all comes back to: Right message. Right way. Right time.

And yet this equation is not commonly followed.

Communication in the workplace is broken (most of the time).

If you polled 100 people, all of whom theoretically have jobs: “What are the two-three biggest issues with where you work?”

I suspect you’d hear them say some combination of compensation, bad management, too much stress, unclear priorities, work being thrown at them without context, too many programs/platforms to manage, and… the granddaddy of them all, communication.

Communication in the workforce has been an issue since there have been workplaces.

You've probably worked somewhere (or a few places) where communication has been poor.

Why is communication often so poor at work?

There are dozens of reasons why communication in the workplace is less than optimal. But let’s focus on 4 key ones for now:

  • The soft skill aspect: Communication in the workplace drives everything — how can anyone know what to do if tasks and visions aren’t being communicated clearly? Yet it’s often viewed as a “soft skill” and subsequently ignored or seen as low value.

  • The self-awareness issue: Many people who communicate poorly actually mistakenly view themselves as great communicators.

  • The technology issue: The explosion in platforms has allowed leaders to hide behind tech in terms of communication as opposed to having more impactful face-to-face dialogues. It doesn't make communications more effective. It muddies it.

  • The strategy aspect: Many leaders jump into communicating a message before thinking through the strategic approach that needs to be taken for the message to have meaning.

How can we begin to fix communication issues at work?

As per Stephen Covey, the first thing you need to do is begin with the end in mind. That’s crucial for any work process. Before you begin anything, and especially before you attempt to communicate with an employee, ask yourself: “What is the goal here? What is the outcome I am seeking?”

In general, there are four outcomes to any work conversation:

  • Awareness

  • Acceptance

  • Action

  • Adoption

In every conversation or communication initiative you have, think about this. What do you want the other person to do once the conversation is over? What’s the outcome supposed to be?

Once the outcome is clear, then you move to the actual tactics. Those include:

1. Know your message: What are you trying to actually articulate? And do you see how that corresponds to the “right message” we discussed at the top of this article?

2. Ask better questions in this flow: First ask “what?” Then ask “so what?” Finally, ask “now what?” This takes the employee from “describing the issue at hand” to “why it matters” (if it doesn’t matter it shouldn’t have been elevated to you) to “what will be done?”

3. Determine the medium: Face-to-face communication is harder in an era of remote teams, yes, but F2F is 34x more effective than email per research. At the very least, fly the remote workers to an off-site once a year.

4. Headline first: Team members don’t need to know everything we know. Think about what the single most important point is that you need to make — the central idea. If your computer died or the fire alarm went off, what would be the one thing employees needed to hear?

5. Adapt your communication style: There are four types of communication preferences or social styles to consider when communicating.

Once you identify the type each co-worker/direct report is, you need to know how to deal with them. In general:

Drivers: Be direct, follow up quickly

Expressives: Connect your solution to their vision; emphasize the impact of the decision

Analyticals: Be factually-driven and provide tangible evidence

Amiables: Personable, patient, and follow through on any promises

If you can identify the social style of all your people and then adapt to their needs, your communication will be received far more effectively.

6. Practice radical candor: This comes from Kim Scott, a former FB/Google exec. It looks something like this visually:

  • When you “care personally” and are able to “challenge directly” (the type of boss many probably would want), that’s radical candor.

  • If you “care personally” but don’t “challenge directly,” that’s ruinous empathy.

  • If you do neither, that’s “manipulative insecurity.”

  • If you challenge directly but don’t care, that’s “obnoxious aggression.”

So you need to both “care personally” and “challenge directly” with your team, and that’s radical candor — otherwise you’re being ruinous, manipulative, or obnoxious.

Take some time to reflect on your communications and determine which of these 6 communication tactics will serve you best.

Leaders who work with Lisa as their executive leadership coach have seen great results when it comes to improving their communications. Perhaps this is the next step for you?


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