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When your work involves building a high-performance team of IT talent, communication is essential to the success of that business. On the surface, communication may seem simple; it’s the everyday exchange of information. In reality, it is a two-way process that, when done well, creates strong relationships. But, when done wrong, it can quickly derail a company.

What I’ve learned over the years is that good communication is about substance, and also how you deliver the message. Truthful, transparent information delivered with empathy and a smile is incredibly impactful and can open a dialogue to positive growth. And balancing what we say with how we say it isn’t a gift; it is a skill we all need to hone.

Today, I am going to share five communication lessons I have learned as a leader over 20 years in business. And believe me, I continue to work on these skills today.

1. Listening is a leader’s foremost job.

Listening, not just hearing, is a powerful tool for showing respect and building trust. “Listening is the art by which we use empathy to reach across the space between us,” a quote from Michael P. Nichols, captures the importance of taking the time to slow down and listen.

With careful, active listening, you will build a connection with each team member, and better understand the strengths and gaps in your team. It’s this connection that will enable you to collaborate, innovate, and solve problems creatively. Plus, when leaders listen, they set the tone for everyone to invest care in truly listening to colleagues.

Using phrases such as “I understand…” and pausing to reflect back to the person what you’ve heard serves the dual purpose of letting the other person know that you are paying attention and reminding yourself to stay tuned in.

2. Transparency is the best policy.

Employees at all levels perform better when your company has a culture of straightforward communication. You can achieve transparency in communication by setting clear expectations for work quality and being open about repercussions of a bad output. Clarity on both sides of the conversation will lead to higher productivity and trust.

Plus, transparency leads to trust. It is a simple train of thought: To be persuasive, you must be believable. To be believable, you must be credible. And, to be credible, you must be truthful.

3. Use the power of words wisely.

Great leaders are often passionate, but they must be tempered by thoughtfulness. Usage of words like “I want …” or “You need to …” instantly trigger defensive responses, sometimes leading to a loss of focus. Conversations held when emotions are high can do more damage than good. Over the years, I’ve learned to pause, take a breath and then weigh your comments carefully before engaging with the team.

When the time is right, try to frame questions in a discovery tone. For example, “What do you think we could have done differently?” Remember, the success of most constructive conversations often depends on the opening sentence.

4. Use innovative communication tools.

There was a time when I relied heavily on bulletin boards and daily papers to communicate. Today, engaging communication requires modern technology. Rather than calling a physical meeting, I take advantage of collaborative tools such as group messaging or video calls. Face-to-face engagement is essential for clarity, particularly if your company is growing quickly and team members work in diverse locations.

5. Make challenging conversations your priority.

Don’t avoid tough discussions. The responsibility to address stressful or damaging situations is yours. Deal with challenging conversations as soon as possible in your day. Once again, prepare for the conversation by considering your audience and the potential emotions tied to the situation.

Books such as Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence can help you better understand this communication approach, bringing a new level of awareness to all your communications efforts.

Final thought: Words are one of the most powerful tools of leadership. They can have a tremendous impact on your success if used effectively. 

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