Why these communication skills will make you a better leader

by | Oct 10, 2016 | Blog | 0 comments

yellow-flowers-in-desertAs a leader you need to inform, interact with, and inspire employees.

What are the vital communication skills you need to brush up on, or acquire?

When a former colleague recently asked me that question, I answered with these five skills:

  1. Listening
  2. Asking questions
  3. Synthesizing
  4. Telling stories
  5. Creating clear and compelling calls to action.

Why are these five so critical?

In today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, you and other leaders need to act more quickly than ever, responding to diverse individuals who are dealing with evolving, unpredictable situations.

You can’t rely on scripts as they become outdated almost as quickly as they’re prepared. Plus, people prefer to engage in real-time two-way conversations rather than listen to lectures. That means interacting with real humans rather than watching polished performers.

Today’s leaders need to be less like traditional actors who follow a script and more like improv players who relate to others in the moment.

If this sounds like improv, you’re right. A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about how leaders can improve their leadership skills by doing more improv.

The more familiar you are with improv the easier it is to focus more on others than yourself. In other words, it starts to become second nature for you to look at issues from others’ perspectives; for example, you can more easily put yourself in others’ shoes.

This perspective-taking, as the scientists call it, helps you be more empathetic. When you’re empathetic, you can connect faster and deeper with employees, or anyone for that matter.

To improve your perspective-taking and your communication, you can work on these five vital skills by doing the following:

  1. Listening more deeply and broadly to more individuals, not just to your inner circle and other usual suspects. The color commentary you hear can give you fresh viewpoints and help you avoid the traps of falling into an echo chamber.  (For more about this, check out Listen with feeling.)
  1. Asking more questions. You’ll learn more when you query. Plus if you ask good thinking questions, you can help others gain self-generated insights, which will make new connections in their brain and encourage them to take action. (For more about this, see Why an “aha!” helps behavior change.)
  1. Synthesizing data in a clear, crisp and concrete manner. There’s a reason we pay attention to text messages, tweets and well-crafted headlines. They cut through the clutter, grab our attention and direct our focus. If you can communicate briefly, clearly and compellingly, individuals can understand you with a minimal of mental effort—which we appreciate.
  1. Telling stories succinctly, specifically and sincerely. We’re wired to love stories. If you can tell stories to share a cautionary tale, convey a point, pose a challenge, motivate, or anything else, you can help people more quickly grasp the gist, remember it and act. (For more about this, check out this Scientific American blog post “It’s in our nature to need stories.”)
  1. Creating clear and compelling calls to action. If you want employees to take action, you need to explicitly ask them. There’s way too much information swirling around to assume that people can clearly focus and parse out exactly what you want them to do. We’re wired for inattention and inertia; we need clear requests. (See 7 steps for a compelling call to action.)

When you add these five skills and other soft skills to your repertoire, you’re able to better inform, interact with and inspire employees.

And as you improve your communication, you’re also able to  build stronger relationships with employees and others.

In a connection economy, these relationships serve as powerful currency for getting things done and achieving positive outcomes.

If you’re like me and still appreciate well-written poetry and prose, we have to acknowledge the disruption of traditional communication and recognize that beauty is often now in the eye of those conversing, not crafting the messages.

The definition of effective communication has expanded. And it’s likely effective communication will continue to evolve.  

What are you doing to be a more empathetic and powerful leader who communicates well?


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