Good communication skills are an important quality for any leader. Whether you lead teams, projects, organisations or your local chess club, it doesn’t matter.
Leadership is about communication, and good communication skills will set you apart when other leaders fall short. Leaders with good communication skills reduce confusion and help people work together. Most importantly, leaders with good communication skills make an effort to ensure that people around them are aware of what’s required of them and what they need to do.
However, saying a leader must have good communication skills is quite broad. Let’s narrow it down. Here are my top five communication skills that will stand you in good stead in your career.
You can’t lead anything without listening to the people around you. Really listening, not just pretending to listen. When you listen to your team and colleagues, you learn what the key challenges are in your team or project. You’ll make people feel like 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.
The next time you’re talking to someone, observe your behaviour. Did you listen, or were you just thinking about what you were going to say next?
2. Being clear and concise
Here is a good general rule of thumb that I try to use:
Say just enough to get your point across, then stop talking (or writing).
If you can explain yourself in the fewest possible number of words, you’re winning. Why? Because when you use fewer words, people understand your message faster. Also, when you are not speaking, other people can contribute.
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 just enough, no more, and then seek to understand what other people are thinking.
This goes for emails too. Don’t write pages of unstructured text. Write in a structured way, with paragraphs and subheadings, if you want to be understood.
3. Asking questions
Another of the good communication skills that leaders need 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.
When you ask questions, you achieve several outcomes:
- People around you feel like their opinions matter.
- You gather information that you might be missing.
- 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. These managers don’t have good communication skills.
4. Observing non-verbal signals
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?
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.
If you want to lean more about understanding non-verbal signals, read this LifeHacker post.
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.
Summarising has several benefits:
- It clarifies any decisions or outcomes that have just been discussed, so there is no confusion.
- People have a final chance to provide feedback.
- Summarising reduces the chance that people will disagree with you later, because you’ve already confirmed 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.
Without this step, watch when people come back weeks later and say “That’s not what we decided!”
Good communication skills make a good leader. Leaders need to communicate, and without the tools to do so, they will struggle. Focus on your communication skills and see the difference it can make.