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Improving your communication skills

Module 5: The seven responsibilities of a leader

As management consultant Peter Drucker said, “Communication is in the mind of the listener.” In other words, it’s not what you say that matters – it’s what people hear that matters. And if they aren’t getting the message, it's your responsibility, as leader, to fix the problem.

Here are four tips for improving your communication skills.

It’s not what you say that matters – it’s what people hear that matters

1. Be aware of your body language, paralanguage and presentation

Being a good communicator is not easy, and to complicate matters, research suggests that less than 10% of what people “hear” is words. The other 90+% of what they “hear” is body language and tone of voice. This means that your non-verbal “language” is critical to getting your message across.

Body language (facial expressions, arm movements, posture), and paralanguage (tone and pitch of your voice, pace of your speech, even grunts) all play a large part in your communication. Your presentation, including how you dress, stand, sit and walk can also have an impact. Standing tall, using a firm handshake, and making eye contact indicate that you are present and ready to engage with the person or audience. Sitting back, with your arms crossed can suggest you are closed to new ideas or disengaged. Becoming more self-aware and conscious of your facial expressions, body language and paralanguage can help you become a better communicator and will have a positive impact on how people perceive you and listen to what you say.

2. Figure out how people need to be communicated to

It's your responsibility to figure out how people need to be communicated to. Some people need to see a message in writing before they believe it. Others prefer symbols, numbers, or graphics. Some people won’t believe things unless they hear you say it to them personally, and others need to hear you say it in front of a group. As leader, you must learn to stay on message, and deliver it over and over again, across different touch points (in person, email, video, and in groups).

3. Manage how you communicate under pressure

It’s tough to communicate under pressure, regardless of whether it’s financial pressure, a difficult performance discussion, or negotiating a merger or acquisition. Adjust your delivery style and keep messages short and clear. Before adjourning meetings, ask people to paraphrase what they heard you say and what their “to dos” and next steps are.

Watch out for miscommunications when hurriedly responding to email. Write your email, then double-check that you have addressed it to the right person, that the appropriate people are being copied, and read your message again to make sure it communicates the message you want to deliver. Remember that emails cannot be softened with body language or tonality – and sometimes it makes sense to sleep on an email and review again the next morning.

4. Identify signs of stress in your employees and adjust your communication accordingly

Recognise when your team members are under pressure, and adjust your communication style accordingly. Symptoms of stress include difficulty concentrating, short communication, incomplete directions, over-defensiveness, forgetfulness, and increased impatience or emotions. When stress levels are high, it’s best to use short, clear messages for your team members to take in the information and action necessary tasks.

 

The way you deliver a message, your tone of voice and your body language are actually more important to the listener than the words you use

In summary, the way you deliver a message, your tone of voice and your body language are actually more important to the listener than the words you use. CEOs and executives need to be especially conscious of their body language and tone of voice when communicating – and need to become adept at communicating messages in a variety of ways. Since one of your key leadership responsibilities is communication, it’s critical that you continually work on improving your communication skills. This will have a huge impact on the success of your employees, and your company.

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