Painting depicting communicationMy company, GDI Talent Acquisition Practice, has identified several critical competencies and personal characteristics of strong leaders. In terms of leadership skills, communication skills are often at the top for many individuals that I have spoken to. Several of these individuals are executives that tell me that effective communication strategies are still missing in many of their managers and leaders. A simple google search on the topic of ‘top leadership skills’ will indicate that the number one skill on many lists are communication skills.

Here are a few examples of poor communication skills:

  • Not listening to the other person and dominating the conversation
  • Being overly critical and judgmental
  • Getting overly emotional and not being objective
  • Passive-aggressiveness and sarcasm

In my work with clients, lack of communication or poor communication skills is often at the center of many organizational problems. From lack of clarity around roles or poor manufacturing quality or late deliveries.

Here are some things you can do right now to dramatically increase your communication skills:

  1. Listen. Effective communication is not always about delivering a speech or presentation to a large crowd. Often, most communication in organizations takes place through one-on-one dialogue between leaders and the people that they work with. When speaking with others, listen more than you speak. When leaders listen, they can gain valuable insights into what is really happening in the organization and they also receive feedback on how to better engage with their workforce.
  2. Don’t be afraid to get personal. If you really want a better understanding on what is going on in the organization, and not just a highly-polished version of the truth, make the conversation personal and engaging. Find ways to share that you really care about the person that you are speaking with. Remind them that you remember that they had an important family event over the weekend and ask them about it. This will build trust and the other person will be more likely to share the bad news or what they are really feeling or thinking. Beware not to personalize issues. When dealing with an issue, always focus on behaviors.
  3. Be specific and clear. Nobody likes a sugarcoated message. As my colleague says “build trust with truth.” Additionally, brevity and clarity are extremely valuable in today’s fast-paced workplace. When speaking with others, get to the point and be specific. Focus on specific tasks, specific goals, or specific behaviors that are expected of the other individual.
  4. Practice empathetic listening skills (which I discussed in this article). Be aware of others’ feelings and how those feelings are impacting their work. Do not pass judgment when others are struggling, instead find ways to be supportive in their time of need.
  5. Know what you are talking about. You don’t have to be the smartest guy in the room, but you should at the very least have a foundation of the technical nature of the work being done at your organization. To really inspire and to mobilize your workforce, you need to be able to speak the same language as your colleagues.

Ask yourself these questions to get a better idea of your current ability to effectively communicate with others:

  1. Do you always allow the other person to finish speaking before preparing your own response?
  2. Are you comfortable delivering both good and bad news?
  3. Are you able to have difficult conversations with others without getting emotional?
  4. Do you adjust your communication style depending on the audience?
  5. Are you open to feedback on how to better improve your communication style?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, you may want to reflect on your own communication style. Better yet, seek out feedback from people you can trust to give you sound advice on how to improve your communication skills.

I’ve only touched on a few points to improve your listening skills. Non-verbal communication is a large part of the equation that I did not discuss (I will write on this topic in the future). I’d like to hear your thoughts on the topic of effective communication strategies.

Your Personal Action Plan:

  1. Listen to others
  2. Don’t be afraid to get personal
  3. Be specific and clear
  4. Practice empathetic listening skills
  5. Know what you are talking about

*Featured painting by Alicia Macias.