Think during your time in your corporate careers. Did you ever come to a time as you moved up the corporate ladder when the words you used or comments you had made before now have a totally different (sometimes devastating) effect on a receiver of your message? This is just one example of something that I am sure you already know. Communication is more than words and the great majority of the message is nonverbal!
If you wish to improve your leadership skills, you will need to take responsibility for the communication within your organization. Start by considering what affect your words have as leader. By setting the example you can dramatically affect the communication process.
There are three things that you must evaluate in order to improve your communications skills. They are:
- 1. What you say
- 2. How you say it both verbally and non-verbally
- 3. Your position and who you are
What you say accounts for less than 10% of the communication process. You should be aware that the words you use can mean different things to different people. For example, “As soon as possible” could mean right now, or as soon as you have time. The words will be interpreted based on the frame of reference of the person listening.
How you say it. Your tone of voice matters. Were you in a hurry or were you angry? How often do you think about how you say it before you speak? It is probably rarely. Consider what happens when you react instinctively. You may realize halfway through that you were wrong but you don’t want to admit it. If you speak too quickly or respond in an angry or bitter way you need to stop, apologize and start over. Listen to what is being said. Are you hearing the other person? It would be helpful to get into the habit of repeating what you just heard to assure that you understood what was said.
“What you say shouts so loud that I can’t hear you tell me what you are saying” is a quote that points out the effect of non-verbal communication. What we say non-verbally through our body language has a greater impact than the words we use. You don’t need to be a genius to read body language. Think of what the body position of others means to you and you will understand what effect you have on others. Things such as crossed arms, crossed legs, or tilted head have huge meaning. Some people make us feel comfortable, some make us feel important, and some make us feel uneasy.
Who you are and your position has an overriding effect on your communication. If you are seen as having authority your words will be taken seriously. Not only that but anything unintentional will be magnified. Be careful of halfhearted jokes or sarcasm. Some people feel good about who they are while others need to show off. People realize when a person is not being who they really are. This feeling leads to lack of trust. Without trust your message has no credibility.
Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great,” highlights what he terms Level Five Leadership. He uses an analogy of the bus. He says that a great leader is able to get the right people on the bus. Are you able to get your team to come with you on your bus? That is the ultimate test.
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