When organizations come to me struggling with big issues such as poor engagement, declining productivity or low morale, one of the first areas I investigate is their communication.
Why? Because despite the fact that communication underpins company culture, vision, and execution it’s usually overlooked by executive leadership.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” –George Bernard Shaw
As George Bernard Shaw pointed out, communication is easily taken for granted. Businesses assume that communication is simple, that their communications are getting through, and that their managers are communicating effectively.
In reality, effective communication is a complex skill, most organizations aren’t communicating nearly as well as they think they are, and managers feel ill-equipped to navigate critical conversations with their teams.
The numbers don’t lie:
Only 7% of U.S. workers strongly agree that communication is accurate, timely, and open where they work, according to 2021 Gallup research.
Not only is communication in most companies not great, Gallup concludes, “sometimes it’s so bad that it drives people to quit.”
Leaning into communication is always important, but it’s particularly crucial right now:
- The world is rife with uncertainty. Employees crave reliable and transparent communication from their employers about how they plan to navigate the road ahead.
- In-person communication is limited. In a communication vacuum, employees will rely on the “grapevine,” which can breed confusion and undermine trust in leadership.
- A lot of business change is happening. Companies are challenged to stay on top of a host of communications about the organizational, industry, and business shifts taking place.
So what does effective communication look like?
Here are 6 rules that, if followed, will drastically improve your leaders’ communication skills:
1. Have a communication plan:
One of the most common causes of communications breakdowns is a misunderstanding about who is responsible for communicating. There’s an easy remedy for this: Make sure your organization has a communication plan.
Think of this as an org chart that maps communications channels and responsibilities to specific roles in the organization. For instance, your executives may own strategic communications at All Hands and management meetings, while managers own relaying the information they learn in management meetings to their teams in team meetings as well as via email.
Make sure everyone involved understands how information is distributed to establish stable communications avenues, maintain frequency, and hold people accountable at every level.
2. Approach communication as an experience:
For better or worse, every act of communication is an experience that is shaped by the words, body language, tone, and materials that you use.
At the end of the day, it’s often the experience more than the message that determines whether the impact of the information exchange is positive or negative.
For example, delivering a positive performance review in a haphazard, rushed manner can still have a net-negative effect by conveying that you don’t really care about the employee or their performance in the first place.
Take care to not just convey information, but to inspire others by being fully present, prepared, and making the message meaningful and engaging.
3. Make it about them:
Communication is for the benefit of the audience, not for you.
When preparing for communication, think about what your audience needs to know, what they want to know, and what it is about the message you’re sharing that you want to resonate with them.
Employing the three C’s of audience-centric communications will help:
Provide Context. We often assume people know more than they do, so be careful to provide the appropriate background information.
Make your message Compelling by tapping into what it means for the person or people you are communicating with.
Be clear about the Conclusion you want others to draw from the communication by getting to the point. It may help to lay out the bottom line at the outset of the communication.
4. Aim for understanding, not agreement:
The goal of communication is to help everyone involved reach a shared understanding of the information.
Simply remembering that your goal is clarity, not necessarily consensus, can take a lot of the pressure out of difficult communications.
Always provide the opportunity for people to communicate their reactions, and prepare to respond to questions or disagreements respectfully and constructively. Even if they don’t embrace the news, employees appreciate it when communications are thoughtful and their feedback is welcomed.
5. Reinforce the same message multiple times, in multiple ways:
Saying or posting something once is rarely enough to get the point across.
Repeatedly reinforcing your communications multiple times, in multiple ways is good for at least three reasons:
- It helps ensure that a consistent message gets through to those who need to hear it.
- It creates more avenues for people to respond and ask questions.
- It signals that you stand by what you say and that you care about it being understood.
6. Follow-through with commitments:
There are implied or explicit commitments attached to every communication.
Often, you are asking others to commit to a new policy or behavior, and/or you promise to take a certain action or follow up in a particular way.
A message ceases to hold meaning if no one is held accountable to these commitments.
Be prepared to hold up your end of the bargain and to take action if others fail to do the same. Remember, it’s equally important to reward those who take positive action in response to communication.
You can never overestimate the power of good communication.
Done right, it will earn employee trust, reduce friction, and establish more positive engagement throughout the business.
On the flip side, letting poor communication practices slide will cause your business, team, and individual performance to suffer.
If you see your business struggling to convey its direction, maintain engagement, or manage change, ask yourself how communication across your company aligns with the rules above.
As a leadership coach, I help organizations reset their communications strategies and equip individual leaders to navigate their communications challenges with clarity and confidence.
Schedule a free consultation to explore how tailored coaching could bridge the communications gaps in your organization.