Good communication skills are an important quality for any leader. It doesn’t really matter whether you lead teams, projects, a whole company or your local chess club.
Leadership is about communication, and good leadership communication skills will set you apart where other leaders fall short.
Why Leadership Communication Skills Are So Important
Leaders with good communication skills are extremely valuable. Why is this?
Because having good leadership communication skills means you are more likely to experience the following benefits:
- People know what is expected of them: Clear expectations are important. Leaders with good communication skills will make sure team members understand what’s needed.
- Team members are less confused: Confusion is common when people aren’t clear on who is doing what in a team. Good communicators make sure that everybody in the team knows what their roles and responsibilities are.
- There are fewer surprises: Nobody likes surprises at work. Good leadership communication skills ensure that people understand what is expected, and when work is due. Leaders with good communication skills also make sure that people understand the key aspects they need to know, to do their job well.
- People feel more involved: Good leadership communication means that team members understand what’s happening in the workplace. They are more likely to feel involved and engaged, rather than feeling like they are being kept in the dark.
Learn More: Top 5 Leadership Skills for Career Success.
Must-Have Leadership Communication Skills
Saying a leader must have good communication skills is fairly broad. So let’s get a little bit more specific.
Here are my top five communication skills that will stand you in good stead in your leadership and management career.
1. Listen Like a Leader (That means really listening).
You can’t lead anything without listening to the people around you.
I’m talking about really listening, not just pretending to listen. When you listen to your team, colleagues and your boss, you learn what the key challenges are for the people around you. Most importantly, you’ll show people that you care, because you take time to hear their point of view.
When you take time to listen rather than just waiting for your turn to speak, you’ll understand more about how people are feeling. You’ll also learn what actions you could take to improve the situation.
Make sure you reduce distractions and put away your electronic devices when you’re speaking your team members. Be present, and show signs that you’re actually listening, like nodding and playing back what they say.
The number of distractions these days is growing by the day. Smart phones, smart watches, smart rings…. it just keeps going! Be intentional about turning your smart devices off, so you can really pay attention.
Use This Simple Listening Checklist
The next time you’re talking to someone, observe your behaviour. Use this simple list of questions to help you work out whether you were really paying attention:
- Were you just thinking about what you were going to say next?
- Were you distracted by email, phone or app notifications?
- Did you show signs that you were listening? (such as nodding, paraphrasing what was said to you to confirm understanding)
- Did the conversation happen in an appropriate location, where you weren’t interrupted?
2. Keeping Your Message Short and Concise
If you can explain yourself in the fewest possible number of words, you’re winning. Why?
Because when you use fewer words, people can understand your message faster. When you are not speaking, other people can contribute too.
Here is one of my favourite quotes, from Mark Twain:
“I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.”
Keeping your message short and sweet is harder than saying everything. When you’re concise, you need to focus on what matters and get rid of the rest.
If you spend all your time talking, nobody else will be saying anything. Unfortunately, this means you may be missing out on important information. Say or write just enough, no more, and then seek to understand what other people are thinking.
I once worked for a manager who would write lengthy weekly emails to everyone in her department. They were full of all manner of topics, and sometimes there was actually some important information buried in there.
The problem was, many people ignored the emails because they were too long and rambling. Don’t let this happen to you!
3. Ask Good Questions
Another good leadership communication skill is to ask questions. It doesn’t sound like much of a skill really, does it?
Anyone can ask a question, but many leaders don’t. Sometimes leaders feel compelled to pretend that they know everything. They feel like they’ll look silly if they ask for clarification.
Of course, these leaders look even more silly when they fail to clarify their understanding and blunder their way through the workplace.
When you ask questions, you achieve several outcomes:
- You show interest in the people around you. People feel like their opinions matter.
- You gather information that you might be missing and clarify potential misunderstandings; and
- You make it clear that you don’t think you know everything.
I’ve worked with plenty of managers who don’t bother to ask questions, because they think they know it all.
Ask more questions and be genuinely interested in the answer, and see what happens.
4. Notice Body Language
Often, some of the most important signals people will give you are not spoken. You might see people with crossed arms in your meeting. Maybe they’re cold, or perhaps they don’t like what you’re saying.
If you watch closely, you’ll see how people are responding to you.
Are people smiling? Looking nervous? Frowning? Rolling their eyes? Do they look away when they speak, without making eye contact?
There are many signs to look for, but the important thing is that you make the effort to observe them. Only if you see the non-verbal signs will you be able to adapt your approach to avoid problems. Failing to see the non-verbal signals in the room means you might be going down the wrong path.
Over time you’ll start to notice body language in your team, and what it means. You can test your understanding by speaking openly with your team members about how they are feeling.
Remember that not everybody has the same body language. Everyone is different, having unique genetics and lived through a variety of different experiences.
What is important is that over time, you develop a “baseline” of body language behaviour, by being perceptive with your people. A baseline means that you know what a person’s normal body language is. If it changes and they start behaving differently, this can be a sign of stress or some other problem.
The next time you’re in a meeting, be intentional about observing body language. The more perceptive you are, the better you can respond to the different leadership situations that appear.
Learn More: To learn more about understanding non-verbal signals, read this LifeHacker post.
5. Play Back and Summarise
When you’ve come out of a meeting or you’ve just had a discussion, it’s a good idea to summarise what has just been said and play it back to your audience.
This has several benefits:
- It clarifies any decisions or outcomes that have just been discussed, so there is no confusion.
- You give people a chance to provide feedback; and
- You reduce the chance that people will disagree with you later, because you’ve already confirmed and restated the outcomes.
When you have significant meetings or discussions, it’s a good idea to summarise the outcomes in writing and send them to the people involved. This gives them a chance to review and confirm what you spoke about.
This has the great benefit of stopping surprises and confusion. If you don’t do this, watch when people come back weeks later and say “I never agreed to that!”
Good communication skills make for good leadership. Focus on developing these leadership communication skills and see the difference it can make for you and your team.
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