Exceptional leaders are exceptional learners
Everything communicates. If that’s the case then why does it seem we have so many issues communicating effectively? We have turned into a nation of broadcasters where we excel at sending the messages we want to send without taking in anything. Communication is a two-way street of sending and receiving, yet most of us navigate our daily lives through a series of one-way roads where we send messages without much concern for how they’re being received. With all that is going on it’s hard to look in the rear view mirror to understand the impact of our verbal and non-verbal communication.
Since so much of our understanding is currently received through non-verbal communications because of a lack of face-to-face communications, we are missing so much of that connection and understanding. Think of how much communication you have had to do these past months that has been done through emails and text messages? Sure, we are doing video calls much more yet even still our messages are often not being received the way we intended.
Our coaching clients are expressing that listening is needed most right now. People need to feel seen and heard. Unfortunately, this isn’t happening as much as it should. Many people have been overwhelmed with all of the changes taking place these past months compounded by many people simply not knowing how to listen effectively. We spend more time thinking about what we’re going to say or worrying about all of the ongoing challenges we are facing. There is so much noise and distraction people can’t listen to what’s being said and even more importantly they can’t listen to what isn’t being said. This lack of connected communication will magnify drama in the workplace, at home, in school and in nearly every facet of society. Most of us really want to be heard and understood, and yet we find ourselves not extending that same courtesy to others.
All is not lost – you have the power to shift your impact on others by becoming a deeper, more effective communicator in this current environment. Here are some ways our coaching clients are setting intentions to do just that.
The first step to being a better communicator is being present. Whether it’s listening or messaging, you will be more effective if you can learn to quiet your mind and focus on the communication at hand. For many, quieting your mind from endless to-do lists to immediate deliverables can be a challenge. Presence is a personal journey, which like many of the keys to successful communication, requires practice to master.
The simplest place to begin is to breathe. Focus on your breath inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Try this for three cycles, each cycle taking about six seconds. In addition to breathing, put away all distractions so you can focus on the person or people with whom you’re communicating. Use no device and don’t open screens. Period.
I often say we have two ears and one mouth for a reason; we should listen more than we speak. Despite that, most people aren’t great listeners especially with all of the distractions we are navigating these past few months.
Being present is the first step in active listening, so put away any distractions, focus and breathe. Now that you’ve quieted your mind you’re ready to listen. Listen with your whole body, maintain eye contact and try not to fidget. Don’t think about what you want to say, use moments of silence in the conversation to process what you have heard. Keep your mind open and listen to learn. Invoke relentless curiosity. Ask powerful questions like “How is that for you?” “What would success look like?” “What’s most important?” to help pull out deeper layers to the conversation. Use clarifying questions and parrot back what you think you heard to understand if you received the intended message.
Listen for what’s not being said as your key to helping someone be heard and to feel understood. If the conversation is heated or emotionally charged, be sure to pause and respond instead of immediately reacting. Managing your own emotions can help you become a better listener.
Exceptional leaders are exceptional listeners, but it takes a lot of practice to master this skill.
It’s easy to assume that people already know what you are doing or what you mean. Often they have no idea what is going on for you just like you don’t know what is going on for them. Right now it is even more important to overcommunicate and remove any assumptions of what you think people know or feel. Challenge your assumptions even if they seem fact based. Check and verify them.
How can they hear you?
Putting your audience first may seem like an obvious statement, but many people don’t necessarily communicate with their audience in mind. We tend to think more about what we want to get out of communication than what we want our audience to get out of it.
The easiest way is to start with the end goal and work backward. What is the intention of your communication and what do you want your audience to take away? What do you want them to think, feel or do after they take in your message? Understand where they are and what they need in order for your communication to resonate with them and move them towards the goal. If you only think about what inspires you and not what inspires the audience, your communication will miss the mark.
Keep it simple
The old adage about keeping it simple applies to all communication. Complication is easy, while simplicity can be challenging. Think about what you want to say (and how it might be received) and keep it short, sweet and simple. In today’s world, we’re bombarded by messaging. If you include brand messages, we might see 10,000 messages a day. It’s no wonder attention is a scarce resource. When crafting a message keep it concise, positive and easy to understand, especially in written form. Our verbal nuances and tone are lost in written messages, so leave the sarcasm out (when in doubt, leave it out). Make sure you read your message before you send it. If you’re unsure of how it’s going to land, have others read it for both content and tone.
Actions speak louder than words
Everything you do from how you treat people to what your workspace (and Zoom space) looks like sends a message about the type of person you are. In today’s world, we are our reputation (or personal brand) and people will form impressions about you based on your actions or lack of action. It is critical to be a person of your word and to do what you say you’re going to do. Many people don’t follow this advice and end up self-sabotaging their leadership and personal brand equity. Saying one thing and doing another is bad form and leads to distrust and dysfunction. Be an effective communicator by keeping your words and actions positive and consistent.
How you communicate and connect to people now will be deeply remembered during this time of uncertainty. You have the ability to help people navigate the confusion and settle the stressors that abound. If communicating isn’t natural to you – it’s okay – get the support you need to practice and deepen your impact. This isn’t easy and no one is perfect at communicating but setting intention to core areas of communication will help deepen your positive impact on others.
Kristi Baker, an associate at Sojourn Partners, has significant experience in the fields of leadership development, talent management, coaching, executive recruiting and brand management. She brings a blend of operational experience and coaching excellence to help improve individual, team and organizational effectiveness by developing leadership capabilities from the inside out.