A great leader understands the importance of effective communication and communication skills can undoubtedly be learned through experience and professional development. However, no matter how big or small your business or organisation, there is a huge difference between knowing what makes a good communicator and actually excelling at communication. All too often, leaders are failing in this key area, which can make all the difference to a successful business.
Does It Matter As Long As The Job Gets Done?
In short, the answer is yes. Poor communication leads to low morale and a lack of motivation. These then lead to lost sales and missed goals and that hits your bottom line. Maybe the job appears to be getting done but there’s a gulf between “getting the job done” in it’s most basic sense and driving a business forward to really achieve the best it can. Get communication right and you will rally teams, empower employees and build trust amongst colleagues. And the end result? More sales, achieving goals, building a can-do attitude and a culture of innovation. That’s the difference good communication makes…
What Are Essential Communication Skills?
- Active Listening– hearing and understanding what is being said to you. Knowing when to speak and when to listen, ask questions and listen to what is said. Employees who feel heard, have a chance to express ideas and give feedback feel more valued, are more actively engaged, leading to higher morale and productivity. Keep your focus on the employee and eliminate any distractions. If you want to win them over, they need to know they are an essential part of the company structure.
- Identifying your leadership style and adapting your communication style–you need to understand how employees perceive you and tailor your interactions to influence them to respond. Whilst you may feel you are an authoritative leader, this may not be the best approach to win over a strong employee seeking autonomy. The ability to adapt your communication style will make a difference.
- Transparency – Leaders build trust through an environment where employees understand the company goals and challenges. Every individual understands the importance of their role within the company and transparent leaders helps make this connection. 5 Powerful things happen when a leader is transparent; this Forbes article shows changes a leader can make to get results.
- Empathy– this quite possibly should have been listed first, as it is a leadership skill must for success. Acknowledging employees feelings and experiences will help them feel valued. Showing you may not be able to change things, but you hear them will build a more robust, more productive culture that every leader needs for success.
- Body Language– How you carry yourself can undo thousands of words. Make eye contact and take control of your mouth. Know when to give a smile or grimace and convey warmth with your movements.
- Questioning style– Practice asking open-ended questions and how to elicit thoughtful and thorough responses. Clarify and probe when you need to. In doing so, you will get more considered answers and clarity on what is required for all to succeed. Closed questions will shut down opinions and employees feeling that they have no right t be heard.
- Feedback– Ask for it and be prepared to act on it. If you never implement changes from feedback or are not transparent about why changes cant be made, you will lose employee faith. Let employees know you hear them and inform them of any progress you can or have made if you want them to take you seriously.
Alongside the tips above, we recommend you check out these top 5 leadership books of all time to give you even more strategies for communicating well within your business.
Developing a communication strategy
A communication strategy forms a vital part of a business plan. It will help you identify how to process and then manage communications. There are a number of reasons a leader should develop a communication strategy, including:
- Defining the frequency with which communication might occur, ensuring teams are not overloaded but giving a clear indication of what is expected
- Identify the communication flow through hierarchy and the types of communication that might be used
- It identifies timescale, and the actions needed to get to those timescales
- It sets out who has access to the information for security, confidentiality and governance
- It also ensures that the relevant individuals are informed and consulted to ensure everyone is kept in the loop.
Taking the time to put together a well thought out and carefully considered communication strategy can mean all the difference to business success. The preparation work that you do can help to drive the results that you want, helping you to stick to timescales, budgets and also produce the desired end results.
Start as you mean to go on
We have talked about the importance of communication, but it is also important to understand that whilst effective communication is vital, there are some times that are even more important than others.
When starting out in a leadership role you can create something of a micro company culture. That is; you are overseeing all the people who have the skills required to make your team, department or organisation a success. You want to ensure that everyone understands exactly what this entails and what their role is. You will also be at the heart of this “micro-culture” and no matter how often people have worked together previously there is a potential for clashes and communication issues. As the person in charge, it is your role to ensure that communication is used as it should be within the team: for the good not the detriment of the business.
Do this from the very first meeting. Give your team all of the information that they need or ask for, let them know exactly what will be happening. It is important for everyone to understand their own personal objectives and goals. This is also a good opportunity to discuss how you are going to communicate as a team, individual emails, group emails, using software tools to log all your communications. Remember, this communication isn’t just between you and your team members. It is also about them communicating with each other. Your entire team needs to consider how they can help and support each other, the business and you.
Managing different people & preferences
Different individuals prefer different types of communication, and that is okay. Every individual responds differently to different styles of learning, so this is something that you should take into account. Try to encourage a wider range of communication styles in order to ensure that everyone has as much access to everything that is going on as possible.
As part of this process you should also make sure that everyone on your team is completely conversant with every tool that you will be using for communication. If you are introducing new software then arranging some training might prove to be a good idea.
One final thing to consider in the early stages is that if your team includes people who prefer to work alone, and who might not be good at sharing information then they will need some guidance to improve their lines of communication.
Whilst effective communication is an essential skill for a leader, there can come a point where there is simply too much communication and this can have a negative impact.
If you are continually calling meetings or requesting detailed status updates, then you will be pulling them away from their work. This can be incredibly disruptive – not to say annoying – especially if there seems to have been little substance to the meeting. Before arranging a meeting consider whether an email request would suffice and maybe rethink your own personal communication strategies.
Meetings, meetings, meetings
The humble meeting is an essential part of any business, but you need to manage them effectively. Unfortunately, team members and stakeholders can sometimes see meetings as a waste of time. If you want to make sure this isn’t the general feeling, then you need to arrange meetings only when they are absolutely necessary.
Plan carefully so that your meetings are meaningful. Try to avoid ad-hoc meetings as a knee jerk reaction to something that you were not really prepared for. If something unexpected does occur then take some time to plan a meeting before calling everyone in. This is a more productive way of working in the long run,
Every meeting should have an objective and everyone attending should be well aware of that objective. Regular meetings are not a problem but make sure you keep them brief. Create an agenda and stick to it. Don’t allow people to go off track and if they have other things to discuss ensure that these are left to the end of the meeting or deferred to another time.
Putting effective communication strategies in place is not as easy as it sounds. There needs to be a good balance between too much communication and too little, and, crucially a good balance between listening and speaking. But get the balance right and you will have leapt a huge hurdle towards business success.