Few if any people in leadership roles can get by without being good at communicating. When you’re in a leadership role, the bulk of your job involves interacting with others both verbally and in writing. Without communication skills, effective leadership isn’t possible and this is true in companies of all sizes. Some of the different people you may communicate with on any given day include:
- Colleagues who are also in leadership roles
- Senior management
- People who are interviewing for an open position
Your interactions with different types of people may require different skills and diverse approaches, but the heart of every interaction is communication. Good communication skills can empower employees to strive to meet their potential. They make it possible for you to help settle conflicts or persuade people to see a different perspective. What does it take to handle all these different scenarios and to be a good communicator in leadership roles?
Be Visible and Available
Being a good communicator in leadership requires being visible and available. Keep your office door open whenever possible and do your best to answer phone calls and emails as promptly as possible. Be prepared to set aside what you’re doing to speak to a superior, employee, or colleague when needed. Many different people need to know you’re available to talk to them such as:
- Your staff needs to know their concerns matter to you, that you’re available to answer questions, and that you want to hear what’s on their minds. A good way of being available to your staff is to schedule regular one-on-one meetings with each employee to find out what’s uppermost on their minds and how you can help.
- Senior management wants to know you’re accessible if there’s something they need to discuss. Be open to opportunities to meet with superiors and to advocate for your staff, such as communicating a need for additional resources, and why these resources are needed.
- Being visible is also important when interacting with customers. When customers have questions or complaints, they want to speak to someone who’s in a leadership role. They may need someone to answer questions, explain things that confuse them, or calm them down if they have complaints.
A good communicator in leadership can be adaptable. Be ready to adapt your communication style based on who you’re talking to. Different people respond to different approaches, and you may need to get to know people to figure out what approach works best. For example, you may have to inject a sense of humor in some interactions but project seriousness in others. Some employees want clear direction while others prefer to be more autonomous.
Good communication doesn’t mean just saying what’s on your mind or delivering information to others. Equally important is the ability to listen and actually hear what others are saying, whether it’s information being passed on from senior management, discussions in meetings with peers, or one-on-one conversations with employees.
Too many people spend the time when others are speaking thinking about what they want to say in response when it’s their turn. Good communication requires being focused and truly paying attention when someone else is speaking.
When leading a department meeting, encourage input from your team. This doesn’t mean getting them to say what you want to say. Effective leaders know there’s a lot to be learned from people in every role. Paying attention to the input others offer can lead to productive collaboration.
Practicing active listening skills lets others know that they’re being heard. When someone else is speaking, work on practicing different ways of showing that you’re listening. Make eye contact, nod where appropriate to communicate that you’re fully present and hearing what’s being said, and ask questions if anything needs clarification. Some people find it helpful to take notes so that the most important points in a discussion aren’t missed.
Clarity is an important trait needed for effective communication in leadership. Provide clear directions to employees so that there’s no confusion or misunderstanding about who is responsible for what and what expectations there are on goals and milestones. If milestones aren’t met, find out what is needed from you to make instructions simpler and to provide additional clarity.
When you’re talking about a topic that you’re very familiar with, you may have a tendency to speak too fast or in terms that are too complex. If people don’t seem to be following what you’re telling them, you may need to slow down. Encourage people to ask questions when they aren’t keeping up.
Employees who miss performance goals may experience low morale or feel stressed. You may be able to help them feel more engaged and inspired just by working on delivering clearer information and instructions.
There are many scenarios in communication with others that require planning ahead. Thinking through what needs to be said is a valuable skill to have whether you’re having a difficult conversation with a staff member, putting on a presentation, leading a department meeting, or requesting additional resources from top executives.
Don’t assume you’ll remember to say what’s most important. Gather information ahead of time and be clear about what needs to be communicated to others. Think before you speak and before you react to what others say.
Planning ahead is also important in written communication skills. Don’t dash off a memo or email without considering your choice of words and overall tone. Make sure your message is coming across the way you intended.
Having Difficult Conversations
In order to be a good communicator in leadership, you must be skilled in having difficult conversations. This may mean letting an employee know their performance is falling short, and delivering this information in a way that can lead to constructive improvements. You may have to initiate discussions between people who are in conflict and take charge of navigating the best way to find a solution when emotions are running high. There may be times when difficult conversations include having to lay off some of your staff or having to tell people that their job duties are going to change dramatically.
It’s natural to want to avoid unpleasant conversations, but chances are you can’t avoid these conversations forever. Poor job performance or workplace hostility or conflict has to be addressed. Difficult conversations need to be faced head-on. It’s not an option to avoid communicating with people because it’s uncomfortable.
Whatever difficult conversations you have to have, you need the ability to articulate what needs to be said in a way that gets the message across without being condescending or insulting. During difficult conversations, it’s especially important to give others your undivided attention. Practice empathy and try to be understanding about challenges others may be facing. At the same time, you may need to be firm if there’s pushback about criticism or unwanted changes. Effective leadership requires good communication skills and confidence in your own ability to handle challenging situations.
Be Open and Honest
In any workplace, most people want to have trustworthy leaders, and building trust requires openness and honesty in communications. Share information with your staff as soon as you can. Transparency is an important quality in leaders, and it can help to break down barriers to communication. Whenever possible, try not to keep important details from your team.
The more open and honest you are about what’s going on in the company, the more you inspire loyalty, hard work, and collaboration. Explain the why behind the decisions you have made and the decisions the company is making. Avoid holding back details that may directly impact your staff.
On an individual level, give clear feedback to your team on job performance so that everyone clearly understands what’s expected of them. Let them each know the importance of their individual roles toward the company’s success.
Honesty is something you should also ask of peers and superiors. Encourage colleagues to give you feedback on how well you’re filling your own role. This can help you recognize things that may need to change.
Emotional intelligence is an important trait for anyone who aims to be a good communicator in leadership. This means you’re in touch with your own emotions and can manage them, particularly when confronted with stressful situations.
Effective leaders are empathetic toward others and sensitive toward their feelings. Things that are happening to people outside work can affect their performance and productivity. Work on trying to see things from another person’s perspective. Offer encouragement and appreciation whenever you can.
Perceiving what others are feeling goes beyond words. When you have emotional intelligence, you can recognize subtle signals people might send with body language, tone of voice, and facial expression. Think about what signals you may be sending to others with your own body language.
The most effective leaders recognize that they have both strengths and weaknesses and that there’s always room for improvement. Be open to opportunities to learn new skills or to practice and strengthen skills you already have. Think about what you have learned from each situation and what you might have done differently. Consider asking for feedback from peers on how well you handled a challenging situation.
Options for improving communications skills are everywhere, from webinars to books to coaching to videos. Working with people with expertise in communication can help you recognize what you need to work on and where you can get started. Whether you’ve been in a leadership role for many years or you’re new to leadership, there’s always room for improvement.
Get in touch with Peaceful Leaders Academy to learn about opportunities to improve leadership skills.