Clear and direct communication is a leader’s greatest asset.
Yet leaders can only exert a positive influence if they have the ability to manage the multiple forms of communication needed between individuals and among teams.
Communication is not just telling people what to do. Humans are complex and diverse, and leaders must understand how to communicate effectively to a variety of individuals. Effective communication necessitates managing multiple forms of communication properly and in a timely manner.
As the foundation of leadership, communication profoundly determines the effectiveness of other qualities associated with one’s ability to lead — earning respect, building trust, empowering team members, ensuring accountability, and more. Any crack or missing piece in that foundation will weaken or even destroy one’s ability to lead.
To hone effective communication skills, incorporate these key strategies:
1. Be mindful of your first impressions.
First impressions aren’t limited to the first time you communicate with a person or group but extend to the first time you communicate during a specific challenge or event.
All first impressions are important. Always come prepared, and gather as much background information as possible on those to whom you’re presenting. Ask your team about their perception of the impression you leave. If you’re comfortable doing so, ask long-standing clients about their first impressions of you.
The initial impression you convey sets the foundation for how others perceive you, adding a lens through which they interpret further communication with you.
2. Bring awareness to body language.
Communication extends well beyond speaking.
Your own and the other party’s body language speaks volumes about how well information is being transmitted and perceived. Body language communicates what a person thinks or feels regarding what is said or unsaid. Therefore, understanding how body language aids or detracts from communicating effectively has tremendous importance.
Note whether you or the person with whom you’re talking is leaning in or away. Is the facial expression open and sincere or stern and disproving? Are arms crossed in front in a defensive posture? Is eye contact maintained or is someone looking away?
All of these are physical manifestations of whether what is communicated is received as positive or negative, clear or confusing, engaging or trivial. When you combine open body language with precise and encouraging words, you become a powerful influence.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for a moment.
As a leader, you communicate more effectively when you’re able to maintain your composure during a difficult exchange.
If you find that you can’t control or manage your emotional state, don’t be afraid to be honest about it and ask for a moment to regain your composure. Emotions aren’t a bad thing, but they can hinder communication if you act on them impulsively. Transparency regarding your internal state shows the other person respect and consideration and ensures that you project your best self in your discussion. You can say, “I’m feeling agitated; I need a moment,” or, “This issue has upset me. I’m going to take a short break and will be back in 10 minutes.”
4. Avoid distractions.
If you’ve been in a conversation with someone who takes out their phone mid-conversation to check messages, you’re aware of the disrespect it implies. Don’t be that person!
If the other party pulls out their phone, kindly ask them to provide you their undivided attention or ask if there’s a better time for to talk when they aren’t distracted. Adding to potential distractions are digital communication forms, such as Teams or Zoom.
It’s easy to become distracted when sitting at your computer with message notifications popping up. Consider setting a policy with your team of turning off notifications during meetings if you find you have repeat offenders or client complaints. Set an example of giving the person who is speaking your full attention.
5. Honor communication differences.
All great leaders know that people have different ways of communicating.
Reaching people and inspiring them as a leader requires an effort on your part to understand who they are, where they come from, what they respond well to, and their preferred mode of communication. Additionally, it’s important to know how to motivate diverse individuals to pursue a common goal. Some communication styles may seem abrasive to some people, while others may appear ineffectually meek. Knowing an individual’s comfort level with everything from direct eye contact to the level of assertiveness will ensure your communication style is well received.
In the end, honing your ability as a leader to convey your message effectively and appropriately will enhance the foundation of your leadership skills. Remaining mindful of the impression you convey, observant of body language, transparent when you need to regain your composure, attentive to the speaker, and aware of diverse communication styles will result in clear communication that makes you an effective, influential leader.
Brian Smith, Ph. D., is founder and senior managing partner of IA Business Advisors, a management consulting firm that has worked with more than 18,000 CEOs, entrepreneurs, managers and employees worldwide. Together with his daughter, Mary Smith, he has authored his latest book, Individual Advantages: Be the “I” in Team. Learn more at iabusinessadvisors.com.