Being a leader or manager isn’t easy. Besides the pressure of meeting deadlines, often with not enough resources, everyone looks to you for the answers. You likely believe that you need to express your point of view, and maybe even provide the answers. The problem with this thinking is that when you are attempting to demonstrate your knowledge, you are likely forgetting to listen, and others are hesitant to share their own ideas or suggest that your thinking may not be accurate.
Great leaders understand how critical the skill of listening is and don’t fall into the trap of thinking they need to be the most vocal person in the room. They recognize that communication is so much more than simply opening their mouth and speaking, and the power that comes from listening. Imagine what you as a leader could learn from others when you don’t have to have the answers and ask others for their input. Imagine how it makes other feel to know their opinions and ideas matter and are valued, and play a role in the company’s success. Imagine a meeting where laptops are closed, cell phones are silenced and put away and everyone, including you the leader’s attention is on the person who is speaking and everyone feels free to speak.
One communication skill all great leaders have is they ask lots and lots of questions. They understand that you and others learn from the question, and from the response. They don’t simply ask clarifying questions but thought-provoking questions that help others think in ways they haven’t and discover things they may not have ever considered.
In communication words make a difference. Subtle changes in the words you use improve communication immensely. Words can make the other person defensive or open to further conversation. They can create powerful results or leave conversations dangling. A couple of examples are maybe, probably and most likely. Anytime someone uses one of these words it means you don’t know what to expect. Leaders with stellar communication skills understand how important specific words can be in conversations and the impact they make.
How often have you left a meeting and it’s unclear who is going to handle whatever came out of the meeting or what’s the next step? Great leaders communicate priorities, delegate tasks and responsibilities to the appropriate person, make clear what to expect and follow up with the group or provide status updates as appropriate. Communication is not left to chance.
Leaders are expected to know their subject matter well. The challenge is relaying the information without moving into information overload or speaking in jargon where you lose or confuse the audience. Those leaders with exceptional communication skills understand their aim is to engage the audience which requires offering information in bite-sized digestible pieces, and in language they understand.
Lastly, leaders who truly understand communication engage in small talk. Small talk is about those conversations you have not related to work…their family, their vacation, how was their weekend, if their child was in a sporting event how did it go…all those little pieces of people’s lives that are not work-related. Not only does it demonstrate you care about them as individuals, it encourages them to open up and share their ideas, concerns and more when important.
Learning to become a better communicator isn’t about reading a book and thinking you got the answers, it’s truly about connecting and caring about others. People feel it when they are important to you and what they think, feel and observe matters. Leaders with great communication skills know this and practice being human first, and leader second.