Think of those you know who make good leaders. Are they innovative and creative? Are they analytical and concise? Are they good at juggling shareholders and banks? Most leaders are at least one if not all of these and more. However, these talents are of little use if they cannot be communicated well.
Good communication is the basis of everything. Some are natural communicators, others are not, but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve on these vital skills.
Recently, whilst working with a newly appointed CEO it became apparent that he preferred to use emails whilst delivering messages and couldn’t understand why people were either not doing as he asked or misunderstood the messages and wasted valuable time going down the wrong path.
After discussion it transpired that he didn’t feel confident in his newly appointed job and was worried that if he met people face to face they may ask questions that he couldn’t answer. By receiving questions via email gave him the time to double check replies to make sure he got it right. He also liked a trail of ‘evidence’ as to what had been said.
Emailing is fine to arrange meetings, clarify, share information, to quickly fulfil a task and to summarise, but to communicate effectively and to build relationships it should really be done face to face, via a conference call or Skype when possible.
The first rule of communicating well is to respect one another and allow each person to express their views. It is important to put yourself in other people’s shoes in order to help understand their frustrations and feelings. It is therefore wise to enter discussions with a clear view of the points to cover, but at the same time an open mind in order to benefit from constructive feedback. Remember that communication is an exchange of information and ideas.
As a business leader it is often the case that the points needing discussion are part of a bigger picture which employees may not be aware of. It is a good idea to paint the picture for others in order for them to fully understand the context of those particular messages. People do not know what they do not know, so never assume. Instead be clear what you want to say and add “which means that’ in several places, even if this is only a silent reminder in your head to help deliver the whole story. This is also a great time to show a bit of enthusiasm. Deliver messages with some energy to help inspire others.
Of course, clarifying understanding and seeking agreement is essential and once established a debate on what actions are needed, who needs to do them and by what time is the next step.
This is when emailing is highly useful in order to summarise the meeting to all involved, so that there are no loose ends.
These steps are logical, but when we are flying around with a million things to do it’s hardly surprising that sometimes we are not effective communicators. That’s why we need reminding.
There is however, one more step to take. Follow up. At the agreed designated times is the work done? If not, what went wrong. Could it be that the original meeting wasn’t as effective as you thought? Rather than become angry, assess if there is still a problem with communication. Perhaps it’s something quite simple, but you won’t know unless you talk about it.