Practical techniques for improving communication
Here’s a figure to make you think: 86% of workers and business leaders cite a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication as the reason for workplace failures. Our own experience shows that a lot of upset in organisations comes from people feeling that other teams do not listen to them or understand what they do.
We have spoken to leaders and managers across the world and found many common failures and shared lessons. So, what makes an effective communicator? Here are the top 10 characteristics we have identified:
Characteristics of a good communicator
- Engage your audience – choose the right medium for your audience
- Conflict resolution – don’t build resentment. Respect people’s feelings and needs and seek to resolve any outstanding issues. Deal with the elephant in the room
- Matching body language to words. Make sure there is conviction in your messaging
- Genuine and authentic – avoid sarcasm and false messaging
- Rapport – small talk matters. Be interested in them. Managers and leaders must send an example
- Break the ice – create an atmosphere that people want to work in and be part of. What can we do to make things comfortable for those we are communicating with?
- Open door policy – don’t have one and then be dismissive of people interrupting. People need to feel comfortable to come through that door
- Listen, not hear – active listening requires suspending judgement and genuinely listening to people
- Read the body language – there’s lots of research on this but use your intuition. Some people feel uncomfortable if people are observing too closely
- Clarity and concision – don’t say too little or talk too much. Try to convey your message in as few words as possible.
Improving your listening skills
As leadership expert and author Steven Covey says, we should all listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply. Developing your listening skills is essential for effective communication. We particularly like how Karin Hurt, former executive of Verizon Wireless and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, talks about building a culture of listening as essential to effective communication. She identifies three core elements of a listening culture:
• Tell the truth – nothing makes people tune out faster than smelling BS
• Reward transparency – if you freak out every time you get bad news, people will fear delivering it
• Encourage field trips – encourage cross-departmental or team visits
So, what can you do to improve your listening skills? One way is to introduce a suggestion box for anonymous feedback and thoughts. This can be a physical box or via an online mechanism. It is also important to respond quickly – one of the biggest issues with employee surveys is how long it takes to go back to employees with the actions. Regular one-to-ones is one of the most powerful ways of getting across key messages in communication – if not the most powerful way. Remove distractions so people can really listen and think. Finally, read body language. It is important here to note that body language may be different in different cultures.
Making people feel informed
When we interviewed CEOs across the world to find out what would make the biggest difference in communication we found the number one thing they mentioned was the quality of team briefings and the bigger the company, the bigger the problem. Regular, quality team communication makes all the difference to outcomes. So, in terms of making your people feel informed, we offer the following five key lessons here:
• Weekly team briefings. This may sound basic but it is vital you let your people know where you are at and what’s happening. It doesn’t need to be a face-to-face huddle, it can be through a relevant digital channel
• Always explain the ‘why’. This is key. Understanding the reasons why is so fundamental to humans so make sure you tell your people this
• Use templates. Anything you can do to shortcut the process will make it easier and encourage you to communicate more regularly
• Use noticeboards. This not necessarily a physical board on a wall but any mechanism that flags up information where you know your people are present
• Switch it up. Keep things fresh and vibrant. Humans like new things and novelty so keep them receptive to messages. Doing things the same way all the time feels boring and slow
So why do the above?
- Better decisions are made when everyone is well informed
- The better the information, the better the outcome for projects and service
- Great information can be enhanced even more
- Better team work, as everyone knows what their role is and has a shared vision
- Output is accurate, relevant, quantifiable and actionable
- Your people are clear on what they need to do to achieve targets and service excellence
- It creates a high performing team
- You get highly engaged teams and organisations.
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