Whenever I’m contacted by a current or prospective client about “friction” they are confronting in their organization, or I’m feeling “tension” in some of my relationships, chances are we will be able to label it a lack of effective communication. On the surface, we probably have a sense of what is happening, yet upon further reflection, great communication skills have far less to do with speaking well and much more to do with several more important soft skills.
It’s ironic that most companies and organizations are more than willing to invest in hard-skill training: technology, for instance. Yet, we have data that says companies with strong and effective communication strategies are 3.5 times more likely to outperform their peers.
That said, here are three tips that can make a huge difference in short order:
Practice Active Listening
Don’t worry about “forgetting what you want to say” as an excuse for interrupting another. That is the opposite of active listening. Silence the alerts from every source – your phone, tablet, computer – all of it. Your sole focus is the person you are speaking with. There will never come a time when you will be accused of listening too well. Absorb what the other person is saying, the tone of voice, and their body language (more on that in a moment). Without interrupting their flow, ask clarifying questions to deeply understand their point of view. Now, there is a subtle nuance to this point; I’ve heard poor listeners say, “what I hear you saying is…” because they believe it’s the right thing to say. That poor listener then transitions into something they want to say if they get the nod of approval. Don’t fall into the trap of superficial validation. Rather, stay relentlessly focused on genuinely hearing, understanding, and interacting with the other person. Missed what you think could be an important nugget? Ask them to repeat themselves; this doesn’t say, “I wasn’t listening”. It’s the mature way to make sure you caught their point.
Focus on Nonverbal Communication
Some wrongly assume that non-verbal only means physical expression, which is missed if you are on a phone call. This can also mean tone. Consider how two people can use the exact same word choice, yet convey entirely different meanings by their tone of voice. Changing tone can have as much impact as physically rolling your eyes, a dismissive gesture, or an encouraging smile. Listen for tone, ask for clarification, and use your tone to establish understanding. By acknowledging tone you not only increase clarity, but you may also inadvertently be providing feedback by anchoring clear messaging or clearing up misunderstandings.
Manage Your Own Emotions
Have you ever been relieved when someone flies off the handle? Been excited when their face turns bright red, they break into a sweat, and see spittle fly when they respond? Me neither – and few enjoy such a reaction. While that is an overt example of being emotionally out-of-control, the more subtle versions can be as damaging. Using a biting or sarcastic tone, curse words (including what you deem as the softer version of a curse word). When working with teams to improve their communication, I frequently quote Viktor Frankl: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” In practice, when you feel an emotion, pause, acknowledge your emotion, then choose. If you’re feeling anger, choose to see the other person as an unknown quantity (perhaps they’ve experienced trauma and their comment really isn’t about you). If you feel emotional in response to another’s breakthrough, acknowledge their courage and name your emotion. These are the ways we demonstrate our emotional intelligence through powerfully communicating.
If your team shows remarkable moments of clear, kind, and brave communication, yet struggles to connect, communicate, and lead consistently, then maybe it’s time to assess yourselves on the Six Keys for Unlocking your Leadership Genius to create independent, Accountable Teams. Take the quiz, then schedule an introduction meeting with Ken Kilday at Leader’s Cut. Ready to go further and really kick the tires on Executive Coaching and Business Strategy? Then the Breakthrough Strategy Session is for you; an investment of 90-minutes of your time (without monetary cost) will tell you if coaching is for you and if Ken is your Coach.