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Honing your Communication Skills

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By Keith Barnwell


“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place” – George Bernard Shaw

We all know how important communication is as a part of effective leadership, but how often do you stop and consider how effectively you communicate with others? We all like to think that we explain ourselves clearly and listen attentively, but how much time do you actually spend honing those skills?

Communication is the responsibility of both parties, but as the transmitter it is your job to convey your message with clarity and to check for understanding.

Simply writing or saying something does not mean you have successfully communicated with someone. If you frequently find that your instructions or comments are misunderstood, perhaps it’s time to look at improving your communication style or skills. Consider the following:

What is the message? Before you begin to speak or write, be very clear about the message you want to get across. For best results, keep your message simple, focused and clear.

“Before you say what you think, be sure you have” – Malcolm Forbes

Know your audience. Communication is not a ‘one size fits all’ activity. Take time to understand the individual or group that you are speaking to and be more mindful of their communication needs than your own. Consider if they may be ‘filtering’ your message through their own personal experience, culture, preferences or background. Whenever possible, customise your message so that it is relevant to the needs of the listener and the moment.

Say exactly what you mean clearly and concisely and avoid using vague statements or instructions, as these can cause confusion.

Make it authentic and make it yours.  If you continually use clichés and jargon or try to imitate others in your delivery the intended message may be missed completely or at least not delivered effectively.

Quality control. Poorly prepared communications can backfire. Often your personal reputation, or that of your company, can stand or fall on the quality of your communication.  Take the time to proofread your written work, and that includes your e-mails, and practice the delivery of any important verbal communication.

Be consistent. Once you have defined your message and customised it for your listener(s), it’s important to repeat, repeat, repeat until everyone has heard the same message. There is a reason that the same adverts run over an extended period, or that politicians repeat the same answer no matter what the question asked; studies show that it’s the combination of consistency and frequency that most effectively influences audiences, as you need to influence yours!

Check in to make sure that you have been heard and understood. Never hesitate to ask the direct question to confirm that you have been understood, particularly when it’s essential that your message or instruction is clearly received.

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Be congruent. Be sure that your words are aligned with your beliefs and your actions. Consider your body language and ensure that you are sending the right non-verbal messages.

Listen. Good communication involves both giving and receiving information. If you are not asking questions and listening to others, then you are not really communicating – you’re just talking.

Select the most appropriate vehicle(s). Face-to-face communication is the best way to avoid the risk of miscommunication because it allows you the opportunity to interpret nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and body language. Unfortunately, it’s not always practical and we often find it necessary to hold important discussions via telephone, audio-visual meetings and even web conferences etc. You should make a point to ask questions and check in more frequently during a ‘virtual’ meeting to ensure that you have their full attention and understanding.

Focus. When engaging in communication with an individual or group of people, maintain eye contact and avoid distractions. Practice the self-discipline and good manners of avoiding checking e-mails, texts or answering the phone when talking to, or more importantly listening to others.  They are all rude and disrespectful habits, no matter how busy and important you may be!

Ask for feedback. No matter how good you think you are at getting your message across, it is the perception of those you are trying to communicate with that really matters. You need to find out how others perceive your communications, or even lack of, and be prepared to act on what you hear.

Make it timely. Regardless of the subject matter, it’s essential that you deliver information in a timely manner. Holding back from delivering bad news or having that difficult conversation ultimately helps no one.

Practice WAIT (Why Am I Talking?). Before you speak, make sure you have something meaningful to say. We all love the sound of our own voice, but others won’t appreciate you wasting their time. Speak when you have something valuable to contribute, not just to fill the silence.

Cool it. Never, EVER communicate when you are angry, either verbally or via e-mail!  Give yourself time to think, calm down and gain a clearer perspective. This is as true in life as it is in business.

In order for it to be most effective, your communication should create an impact and influence thinking, which in turn should lead to action and achieve a desired result. Is that  what your communication is doing?

Thank you for reading and please share this post with others who you think may find it helpful.

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This is an extract from the LeaderFocus App for the iPad available on iTunes.  To learn more and to download the LeaderFocus App click on the icon.  Keith Barnwell is a leadership development specialist and executive coach at It’s All About Leadership