Communication Techniques for Leaders

By Teena Rose

Sometimes even the most successful executive needs a reminder or two on the basics of communication. Why? Just like everyone else, executives get busy with meeting deadlines and getting information out quickly. This can sometimes lead to communication that is misinterpreted, misleading, or simply gives a negative impression when that is not the intention. As such, a few quick reminders can help you communicate effectively at work, at home, and at play.

One of the most basic tools of good communication is learning how to listen effectively. Yes, you've heard it before and there's a reason. It works.

Listening demonstrates caring, particularly when you are able to provide a brief summary of what the other party is saying. As a busy executive, this may seem contrary to what you need to accomplish - giving directives or disseminating information. However, if you are able to take the time on a regular basis to listen to your staff, you may find that your ultimate goals are much easier to accomplish.

When people feel they are being heard, they are much more receptive to directives. When they don't feel heard, they are more likely to focus on getting their point across than hearing what you have to say. Therefore, when you show that you are listening and understand what your team is telling you, they will in turn listen to you when it's your turn, and when the communication is vitally important to the company.

Listening and validating the opinions of others also builds trust, which, for the executive, is a desirable trait in a leader. If your employees trust you, they're more likely to go along with changes and requests. When trust is absent, your employees will be wary of anything you have to say, which will work against your objectives. Validating your team is very easy to do. All you have to do is communicate that you've heard and understand their opinions. This does not mean that you have to agree, simply that you acknowledge the communication.

During the interaction, take a moment to repeat what you've heard in your own words to ensure that you heard and understand correctly - that's all it takes! The other party will either confirm or clarify. This simple act of validating the communication is extremely powerful in developing meaningful relationships, whether in business, at home, or in any other situation.

Another key issue to effective communication is to be aware of your body language. Most of our communication is nonverbal, so your facial expressions, posture, tone of voice, and volume of speaking contribute to how your message is conveyed. Think for example of telling someone that he or she did a great job on a project while yelling and slamming your fists on the desk. Chances are the words won't mean much. The message that comes across is one of anger or agitation. So even if you have the perfect words, how you say them is just as important, if not more so than what you say.

To make the most of your nonverbal communication, remember to maintain eye contact, particularly when listening, as this shows that you are paying attention. Keep your body language open by not crossing your arms or showing tension through closed fists or a clenched jaw. Keep your tone in check, and take some deep breaths if needed, particularly if you're communicating difficult information, such as when taking disciplinary actions.

Even though you're the boss, think of communicating your message using "I" messages. Again, this is a technique you've likely heard before, but it bears repeating. When you use "you" statements, the other party is likely to feel defensive, even during a casual conversation. State your observations and thoughts rather than making statements that run the risk of sounding judgmental. Yes, you're the executive, but one quick way to alienate others is to use statements that sound accusatory or that you know how someone else thinks or feels.

Finally, since so much communication these days is written, consider revising your email and memo communications. Even though email is a casual form of communicating, your purposes are still professional, and your messages should show this. As an executive, you're likely using support personnel to assist you in your writings. If needed, offer educational opportunities in business writing and communication techniques.

Throughout your executive career, you have been and will be in numerous situations where effective communication is essential. Take a few moments to refresh your skills and practice. It will be worth the effort.

Need a kick-butt resume and cover letter? Teena Rose is a credentialed resume writer, columnist, book author, and careerist. She's authored several books, including "20-Minute Cover Letter Fixer" and "Cracking the Code to Pharmaceutical Sales."

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