leadership and communication skills

About the author : Valerie Dansereau

Leadership and communication skills can’t be separated. If you aim to be an effective leader, your communication skills are among the most important skills you have for building connections between team members, motivating and inspiring others and for implementing changes that benefit your organization and your team.

If you don’t feel confident in your communication skills or you feel you’re not getting the results you want in some interactions, there’s work to be done. Poor communication can lead to confused or frustrated employees as well as wasted time and subpar productivity. If you don’t make communication skills a priority and don’t recognize when improvement is needed, you may lose credibility as a leader. Leadership and communication skills aren’t necessarily something you’re born with, but there are many ways to learn, practice and improve these skills.

Prepare Ahead of Time

Whether you’re participating in a discussion with other leaders, putting on a presentation or leading a meeting with your own team, the more thoroughly you prepare ahead of time, the more likely you’ll be able to communicate clearly and have an impact on others. Preparing ahead of time doesn’t guarantee success, but not being prepared makes it more likely you could be setting yourself up for failure.

Know the most important points you need to make in meetings and spend some time thinking about the best way to get your point across. Consider who the audience is and the best way to get them interested in your message. Does the audience need a relaxed approach to help them pay attention, or would a direct, businesslike approach be more effective?

Communicating information effectively depends on your own grasp of what you’re talking about. If you’re providing job training to a new employee, make sure you have a handle on exactly what needs to be done and why. If you’re putting on a presentation, the better you understand the subject, the more prepared you are to answer any questions that come up.

In any situation, the more thoroughly you understand the why behind the things you’re communicating, the more clarity you’ll be able to bring. Whether your message is written or verbal, know the purpose of your communication and take the time to plan ahead to make sure you say what you mean to say.

Adapt to the Audience and the Situation

Effective leadership and communication require adaptability and being open to new ways of thinking. Your message and the way information is presented frequently have to be tailored to the audience and the situation. This is true in both oral and written communication.

For example, certain skills are needed when having difficult conversations such as mediating conflict between two employees or going over a performance review with an employee who has fallen short in multiple areas. Completely different skills are needed when interviewing candidates for an opening in the department, explaining job duties to new employees, meeting with other managers or speaking to customers.

Within each group of people, there are still many different possible scenarios that can’t always be approached the same way. One approach is needed when dealing with dissatisfied customers who are angry or hostile, and a completely different approach is needed when communicating with customers who are simply asking for information. When communicating with employees, the way you approach a brand new intern is likely to be quite a bit different than the way you talk to your most skilled and experienced employee.

Talking to groups of people also requires adaptability. In some situations, injecting humor or anecdotes can help to lighten the mood and captivate attention. In other situations, you need to focus on communicating with clarity and authority. When the things you’re communicating are tailored to your audience, there’s a better chance your message will be heard and understood.

Become a Better Listener

Communication is a two-way street. One of the biggest aspects of improving leadership and communication skills is to work on being a better listener. Poor listening skills may mean you’re missing the point in what others are saying or that you’re not aware of some of what’s going on around you. It’s pretty hard to lead a team if you don’t have a clear picture of what their biggest concerns are.

Let staff know your door is open and you’re genuinely interested in their challenges and in finding out what’s on their minds. Don’t interrupt employees when they’re speaking and avoid jumping to conclusions about what they’re trying to say. Scheduling regular one-on-one meetings with each of your employees is a good way to open the door to communication.

There are few things more frustrating for employees than approaching a supervisor to talk about what’s on their minds and being constantly interrupted and knowing the supervisor is distracted with emails, texts or phone calls. When someone approaches you with a concern such as a work-related problem they’re having trouble solving or a conflict with another team member, give them your undivided attention. Close the door and put the phone on do not disturb so you can closely focus on what’s being said.

Active listening is a skill that involves being fully present when you’re having a conversation. To practice active listening, communicate to the other person that you’re paying attention by making eye contact, asking questions and repeating back to them what you’re understanding based on what they’re saying. This gives them an opportunity to correct you if there have been any misunderstandings.

Many people believe they’re good listeners but find they have missed important details if they’re asked to repeat back what others have said. Listening skills aren’t always as easy to master as people may think, and most people benefit from working on this skill. When others know you’re listening to them, it helps to increase their trust in you.

Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Communication

To be effective in a leadership role, it’s important to be aware of the fact that words are part of the way people communicate, but they’re not the only part. People communicate non-verbally in many different ways, giving off signals that may differ from the words they’re saying. This includes tone of voice, facial expression and body language.

Think about the signals you’re giving to other people. Your tone of voice, how much eye contact you make, your facial expression and your posture are just a few of the nonverbal messages you’re sending out. Work on being aware of your own body language. Are your nonverbal signals putting people at ease or causing them to feel offended? Are you talking too softly or too loudly? Your posture is a signal to others about whether you’re paying attention and whether you’re comfortable in a given situation.

If you’re saying one thing but your body language is saying something else, it may make it hard for others to trust you. Sending out the right signals can help to strengthen the message you’re trying to communicate. Sending out the wrong signals is contradictory.

To be effective in leadership and communication, it’s crucial that you pay attention to subtle cues people are giving you. Whether you’re talking to someone you know well or a complete stranger, you probably have a good idea what they’re feeling based on the expression on their face. Work on being empathetic and accurately read the emotions people are experiencing.

Body language and other forms of non-verbal communication are an important part of the way people communicate. Watch for inconsistencies between words and behavior. Work on recognizing when you might be sending out unintentional signals.

Be Open to Feedback

In any type of communication, you’re likely to get some things right and you may also get some things wrong. Unfamiliar situations are opportunities to learn and improve communication skills. The best way to improve leadership and communication skills is to learn from different experiences and practice skills when possible.

Ask for feedback from trusted colleagues. After you have given a presentation or led a meeting, ask some of your peers if your message came across clearly and if there are any suggestions on things you need to work on.  Do you typically speak too fast or too slowly? Do they feel that you tend to ramble or stay on topic? Were you sufficiently prepared?

There’s always room for improvement when it comes to communication skills, and feedback from others can help you to identify what areas might benefit from some improvement. At the same time, when you ask for feedback, it doesn’t always have to be negative or critical. Positive feedback lets you know you’re on the right track in some areas.

After you’ve received feedback on some of your leadership and communication skills from different people, reflect on what you’ve been told. Spend some time thinking through and analyzing what people have said. Consider which suggestions should be implemented and whether there are any suggestions that you disagree with and plan to disregard. While you may not always agree with the comments others make, hearing the observations of others can be very beneficial.

Those who are most effective in leadership roles recognize the importance of lifelong learning. No one will ever know all there is to know about leadership and communication, but it’s helpful to take advantage of opportunities to learn new skills through classes, webinars books and videos. Pay attention to the communication skills of leaders you see as effective and consider what they may be doing that you’re not. Practice new skills and fresh approaches whenever you can.

Reach out to Peaceful Leaders Academy to learn about opportunities for leadership training.

About the author : Valerie Dansereau