You should think of communication skills as a life skill, not simply a business skill.
The problem is though that most of us aren’t taught at a young age how to communicate effectively, and what we are taught is about what not to do which ultimately hinders successful communication. What did you hear as a child? “Don’t you dare cry” or “I don’t want to hear excuses” (even if you were simply trying to explain something) or “don’t talk to dad now he’s had a bad day” or maybe even “quit asking the question, just do as I tell you”. It’s no wonder we grow up not knowing how to have conversations with people and that many of us go out of our way to avoid anything that smells like or has the potential to cause a problem. We were taught to avoid and suck it up.
Then we add in the challenges of today’s business world, which moves at the speed of light. Coupled with technology (email and text) that allows us to avoid speaking with another human being, and you have a recipe for disaster.
And we have to take into account communicating with people who have different communication styles and personalities, in different ways such as meetings, phone calls, social media, email and every other way imaginable as well as thinking about if they are a team member, customer, your boss…and it’s no wonder people simply don’t focus on communication skills, it’s way to much work.
Yet there are leaders who seem to have their communication skills figured out.
They recognize everything I mentioned and build the high trust relationships both inside and outside the company that are necessary. What do they know or do differently than the rest of us? Here are four things those leaders always do. AND don’t assume it all comes naturally, they had to practice to get here, and continue practicing to stay at this level.
4 Things Leaders With Outstanding Communication Skills Always Do
- They are consistent in their presence.
Many years ago I was working with an editor to help me with my writing. One of her comments was how consistent I was. By that she meant that whether she read something I wrote, we talked on the phone, she heard me speak or was reading a social media post the same person showed up. I was taken aback a bit as I never thought about it, I was just being me.
What it reminded me was the importance of consistency. Think about it. If you are that easy going, fun loving, informal person most of the time but periodically shift to the formal buttoned-up person sometimes those around you don’t know what to expect. Who’s going to show up today? How will they interact with you when they don’t know which person is going to be in front of them?
- They are consistent in their behavior and actions.
I don’t mean 100% of the time, no one is ever 100%. What I mean is that if you tell someone you will get back to them by close of business tomorrow, you do whether you have the information you promised or not. If you post on social media daily, suddenly stopping for a month, picking up again and intermittently posting means others don’t know what to expect.
When a project is due and the deadline is missed, giving one person a pass and racking someone else over the coals doesn’t build trust or loyalty. When you take a vacation and don’t check in with the office but expect employees and others to check in, you are demonstrating that there are different rules and standards. If you don’t think this communicates to others a message you are wrong. Leaders with strong communication skills recognize that their actions and behavior need to be consistent so others know what to expect, which in turn builds trust.
- Understand that authenticity is an asset, not a liability.
This is more than doing what you say you are going to do, this is about not changing who you are to impress someone or acting differently because you think it will somehow benefit you. I worked for a company many years ago where the CEO did whatever he had to secure customers and keep customers. He’d take them on trips to Las Vegas, he’d buy wildly expensive gifts and occasionally ask people in the company to ‘entertain’ them. It wasn’t a secret to anyone in the company. Yet when he was asked to invest in employees with training, or for salary increases or anything else his answer was always the same. “If they don’t want to work for (company name), f—k them someone else will.
It’s ok to show vulnerability when appropriate. It allows other to feel comfortable showing theirs. I’m not suggesting you let it all hang out but maintaining the stiff upper lip doesn’t bode well either. Things happen…illness, death, divorce, business problems…life happens and it’s ok to let your guard down and show your feelings.
- They genuinely care about others.
People know when you care about them, it’s obvious in how you communicate with them and how you treat them. When you care about them your mindset is one of helping. I have observed so many leaders over the years and the ones that use words such as ‘how can I help you’ or ‘what would be most helpful to you’ not only improves communication but leads to better solutions. Instead of rushing in to fix the problem you find out what they need, you demonstrate you care about them as people by finding out what they need and ultimately they become more adept at asking for help.
You don’t need to have the answers, you need to have the questions.
Instead of focusing on the person standing in front of you, the leaders with outstanding communication skills are solution focused…what does this person need AND what does the team need? Solving one person’s problem without considering the impact on the rest of the team may simply create other problems.
Are leaders with exceptional communication skills born?
I suspect that some people have more of a natural affinity for human interactions and communication. However, even the best communicators didn’t get there without focus and practice and patience. They understand that the skills they used yesterday with Johnny the employee may not work as well with Suzy the client or Sherry the vendor.
What makes these leaders exception is they understand that there is not a one size fits all way of communicating that works with all people in all circumstances, and they care enough to take this into consideration during the communication whether face-to-face, an email or any other way.