Many job ads say that they want candidates to have good communication skills.
When I ask people to list the attributes or behaviours that they most admire in their leaders, being a “good communicator” comes up again and again.
The LinkedIn Learning Blog also indicates that communication is #2 in the top soft skills for career growth.
But what is good communication?
It’s easy to say we want it, but less common for everyone to know exactly what it means.
That’s why in this post, I’ll give my take on what good communication is, and the things to consider while you’re doing it.
Learn More: 5 Simple Steps to Communicate Effectively.
What Is Good Communication Really?
Let’s get straight to it with the major factors that I believe make up excellent communication.
These aren’t just about the words that are used, or about the message itself. It’s also about the manner in which we communicate, and the environment we create to enable communication.
1. Good Communication Means Thoughtfully Crafting Your Message
As good thoughtful leaders, we should be communicating thoughtfully, too.
This means thinking about the best way to present the information, so that other people can absorb and understand it. A few important ingredients to consider are:
- Why it matters: Why are you communicating? What is the reason that they need to understand the information you’re passing on?
- What they need to know: What are the key points? Are they very important or just for interest only? Optional or mandatory?
- Who needs to know: Are there certain people who need the information? Does it apply to everyone? What are the characteristics of the people you’re communicating with… and do they impact the message?
It’s easy to blast your message out to everyone and leave it up to the audience to take it in, or not.
That’s a lazy approach, and can take up a lot of people’s time.
When leaders communicate, there is a magnifying effect, because they often communicate with many people at once. Consider the example of email communication below.
In this example (which I created to illustrate the point), there is a 40 minute time saving from taking a little longer to craft the communication.
It might take you a bit longer to thoughtfully craft your message, but hopefully your audience will be able to understand and digest it much more easily.
The point? Thoughtfully crafting your message can result in more productive communication. Hopefully with less confusion, back and forth questions and misunderstandings which can take up everyone’s valuable time.
This doesn’t mean you need to take forever to communicate. A good rule of thumb is the more important your communication, the more time you spend.
2. Thoughtfully Choose Your Medium of Communication
Next comes the medium, which is the channel you communicate with.
Email is an obvious and over-used medium. You only need to look at this Statista estimate to see that the number of emails per day is in the hundreds of billions.
These days we have a multitude of chat platforms at our disposal, too. Microsoft Teams, Slack and Discord are just a few. These allow us to shoot messages back and forth instantly, which is very convenient.
But of course, we also have the ability to make an old fashioned phone call, send a text, a video call or even have a face to face meeting.
It can all be very confusing.
In general, using more personal methods is beneficial for important communication. These are the methods which involve face to face, real-time communication.
The Medium You Choose Sends a Strong Message
Earlier in my career, I once sat next to somebody in an open-plan office who received a phone call from her manager, telling her that her position was being made redundant.
She was extremely upset, and everyone sitting around her knew it.
Not the most thoughtful medium of communication that could have been chosen.
What did this say about the manager, do you think?
In my view, this could have indicated a few things.
That either the manager had very little empathy for the plight of the employee (and her surroundings), little respect for the relationship or simply that the manager was very uncomfortable communicating this message, prompting them to choose a less personal medium.
Conversely, choosing a more personal medium can be a sign of respect. It also means you are taking accountability and fronting up, even if you might feel uncomfortable with the message you need to deliver.
Guidelines For Choosing Your Medium
When you’re choosing your medium for communication, consider the following:
- Importance. How important is it that you know the other person receives your message correctly, understands it, and can potentially provide feedback?
- Impact. What is the potential impact on the person receiving the message? Should they be receiving it in private, or is it a trivial matter?
- Relationship. Does the communication potentially impact the relationship? Choosing a more personal method might demonstrate your willingness to build or maintain your rapport with the person.
It’s also good to throw the “golden rule” out the window here. That is “treating others how you would like to be treated”.
This doesn’t hold up, because everyone is different.
Make an effort to understand your people and communicate with them in the way that they would prefer, depending on the situation.
3. Good Communication Means Getting the Timing Right
The timing of communication can be an important factor, too.
Communicating too early can have your people worrying needlessly, or absorbing information that they don’t need to use until later (and will forget).
Working out the right timing can be a challenge. You want to make sure you have the important information, you give people plenty of notice if they need to prepare, or are likely to be impacted by what you have to say.
This means the timing can only really be determined by being thoughtful about the content of your message in step 1.
One good rule to remember is “no surprises”!
Hardly anyone likes work surprises, especially those that will require extra effort or may involve a change in role or the team member’s situation.
4. Good Communication Means Considering the Impact
We covered it a little in the points above, but I think this needs to be reiterated.
Good communication also means planning for the potential impact that your communication may have.
For simple, everyday communication, you might not expect much impact from sending your message.
However, when you have important communication which may cause stress, uncertainty or a change in your team, it’s worth considering how you think the message will be received.
If the potential impact is high, then you’ll want to consider following up and checking in with your people after you’ve communicated, to see how they’re feeling about it.
You may also communicate in stages. Let them know a little first, then set a future time where you can communicate more information when you have it.
The details of large initiatives such as restructures, major projects or large organisational changes are often not fully known in the beginning, so it’s important to consider how and when you’ll stagger the communication to keep people informed, without needing to have the whole story all at once.
Learn More: 5 Communication Skills Every Leader Needs.
5. Provide Opportunities For Two-Way Communication
Good communication is not just about sending messages, it’s also about being available for others.
Busy, stressed leaders are most at risk of being unavailable for their teams.
Back to back meetings, a full email inbox, a demanding boss. All of these things will put pressure on your ability to remain available for your team.
Regular team meetings and 1 to 1 meetings are great tools to keep communication lines open – as long as you stick to them.
You might also consider booking some “team time” in your calendar, which is an additional time when you’ll specifically make yourself available for your people if they are in need of support.
Increasing the opportunities for your people to communicate with you will help remain connected to your team. It’s also more likely that people will raise questions or concerns when they need support.
It might seem like a lot of effort to carve out the time to be more available. You might just find it saves time and anguish in the long run as you keep your finger on the pulse a little more easily.
Communicate With Intention and Be the Leader Your Team Wants
People want their leaders to be good communicators.
You don’t want to upset them, do you?
Communicate thoughtfully and with intention to set clear expectations, reduce confusion and prevent misunderstandings.
Your people will thank you for it.
What do you think good communication means? Let me and all the other thoughtful leaders know in the comments below!