I speak and write often on communication skills and the importance of communication driven by the perspective of the listener. I recently fell into the trap of which I warn others. I had prepared a document intended for my coaching clients. Because of its importance, I reviewed it with one of my coaches. Her first reaction was “With all of the positive things in this document, why did you open with a negative statement?” I had been so focused on what I needed to communicate that I had neglected to think about the reader. So this seems like a good time to remind myself and others of the secrets of effective communication.
To communicate effectively there are a few steps that allow a leader to present a message to ears that are more open to receive. Actually these tips go well beyond leadership in organizations, applying to communication with your children, spouse, friends, co-workers, boss, as well as those whom you lead. These tips apply to any communication whether it be a short text or email, a letter, a speech, or a conversation. To communicate effectively, you should follow these steps:
- Assess the emotional state of your audience. Are they celebrating with joy, stressed, angry, or questioning? What are the circumstances that they are facing and the mindset that is likely present? Before you can formulate the message, it is essential to understand the state of mind in which it will be received.
- Validate the emotions of your audience. Communication is most effective when it is on a personal level. Even when addressing a crowd of thousands, the best communicators keep it personal by connecting with the emotions that are present and by demonstrating empathy. On the other hand, the quickest way to block connection is to tell someone that what they are feeling is wrong.
- Express your gratitude or appreciation or, at least, acknowledge the circumstances. This is another part of the personal connection. People want to be acknowledged and affirmed. This is especially true when the message might contain some bad news or describe the need for some corrective action.
- Explain the context. As the originator of the message, we of course know the context and have spent some time thinking about the message. The receiver, on the other hand, does not know the context or logic behind the message. Sometimes even the simplest message gets lost or misunderstood without the foundation of the background or context.
- Deliver the message. Only when the previous steps are laid as a foundation for the communication can we expect to be effective. While these steps are absolutely essential for communicating negative news, they make any communication more easily received.
- Be open for feedback or discussion. Another element in making communication personal is remaining open for further discussion or explanation. If the message comes across as an edict of some sort, it is cold and the reaction of the receiver is often rejection. The very expression of openness by the presenter invites the receiver into relationship that is more accepting of the message.
Picture some scenarios to see the benefit of these steps in communication. Scenario #1: In the case of the announcement of a plant closing, the ineffective communication is a simple announcement from the CEO with a date and the formalities of the closing process while the effective communication acknowledges the disappointment of the workforce, expresses gratitude for their service over the years, describes the market conditions that led to the decision, expresses an openness in further discussion, and presents the decision as a difficult reality. Scenario #2: In the case of your son violating curfew and therefore losing driving privileges for some time, the ineffective communication is an angry announcement while the effective communication is a discussion about decision-making and consequences, acknowledging disappointment by both parties, but with the same bad news for the son.
In another recent article on communication we discussed the importance of communication being built upon clarity, candor, congruency, consistency, and connection. Leadership is influence that flows out of relationship. Effective communication is key to effective leadership because it draws people into accepting or even seeking the influence of leadership.
In your experience, what additional steps might make for effective communications?