There’s a story about a boss known for “solving” problems without all the facts (let alone the listening skills to win trust and build real solutions). One day, as if the boss finally saw the light, they stopped mid-rant and said to a team member, “Enough about me and my humble opinion. . . . What do you think about how great I am at solving problems?” Yuk. No one wants an out-of-touch, know-it-all boss like that. People want a leader who listens and cares enough to have true two-way conversations.
Not surprisingly, only 13% of U.S. workers strongly agree their organization’s leadership uses communication effectively.1 A whole lot of leaders listen too little, talk too much, and keep their team members feeling confused and undervalued.
If you want to build momentum and win your team’s trust, you have to be intentional about how you communicate. When you connect with the heart and the needs of your team, it’s easier to give good directions. And when your team knows where they’re heading, they can get to the destination easily—and have a blast working together! Bad direction (or worse, no direction) tanks morale, causes frustration, and drives people to quit.
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So, let’s take a look at what effective communication is and why it’s important so you can create a culture of healthy communication in your company.
What Is Effective Communication?
Merriam-Webster defines communication as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior.” Blah, blah, blah, right? We all know effective communication is more than an exchange of information. It’s ultimately about empowering your team to bring their best and valuing them by being clear and respectful.
Why Is Effective Communication Important?
When you know what great leadership is, you understand that leading well goes hand-in-hand with communicating well. And leading and communicating effectively is how you build an amazing company culture. Great leaders bring their team members together, motivating them with strong communication that:
- Sets clear expectations
- Makes sure everyone has the direction and information they need to do their job
- Focuses on the why of their work
- Invites collaboration and the sharing of ideas
- Builds unity, trust and buy-in
- Resolves misunderstandings quickly
- Helps team members feel satisfied with and proud of their work
Poor communication, on the other hand, is good for one thing: killing your team’s unity and momentum. They’ll be frustrated and angry, and eventually you’ll lose their trust. If you don’t make big communication changes fast, more and more negative effects will start piling up, like:
- Email overload and chaos
- Doubling up on work—or the opposite: work falling through the cracks
- Delays, bottlenecks and missed opportunities
- Gossip, rumors and conflict almost as bad as some reality TV shows
- And ultimately, dissatisfied, frustrated people who don’t care (aka a revolving door of disconnected employees)
How to Become an Effective Communicator
You’re sold now, aren’t you? You want to really connect with your team members by sharing with them and listening to them. That’s awesome! And you might even be thinking, This is pretty obvious stuff. But hold on for a second. Yes, figuring out how to be a top-dog communicator is 100% easier (and better) than trying to be a mind reader—but it’s still hard work. Start by practicing these communication principles:
Calm creates calm. If you have hard news to deliver and you’re in freak-out mode, the person you’re talking to will freak out too—blowing up any chance for good communication. Take time to compose yourself before you have a hard conversation. And remember: Your tone, gestures and facial expressions speak louder than your words. Be calm, then carry on!
Confusion is the last thing you want at any point during or after a conversation. So don’t make the person you’re talking to try to read your mind. Be clear and direct. No talking endlessly and boring the other person to tears and definitely no fancy words that go over your listener’s head.
If you have time, writing your thoughts down first can help you be clearer and more direct. Then, when it’s time to actually speak up, think about how your audience will hear you best. Your timing, tone and intent should be different depending on who you’re talking to. You may need to be firmer in a meeting with big personalities but more relational in a one-on-one or teaching setting. In any situation, to be clear is to be kind, which leads us to the next point.
Pro tip: If you’re looking to nail down your or your team’s communication style, check out the four DISC personality types.
Show the person you’re talking to that you’re all in. Focus. Interact. Be open to listening, and be helpful with your response. You catch more flies with honey, and you build more trust when your team knows you care.
Kindness also means holding confidential information carefully. If you’re a leader who can help solve a problem, do it with excellence and integrity. Or if you think someone else could do a better job of handling the information, let that person know and then help them make that connection.
Pro tip: Whenever you can share a good laugh as you talk something through, go for it! Laughter is an amazing medicine.
Giving inconsistent versions of the same message is a recipe for communication whiplash. Sure, it’s smart to change up the level of details and delivery style to match your audience, but your core message should be consistent.
Consistency also goes back to making sure your words and actions match. Imagine telling your team everything’s great, but your arms are crossed and you have a blank stare on your face. Or maybe you’re saying yes while shaking your head no. Say what you mean and mean what you say—always. Your team and your reputation will thank you.
Pro tip: Open body language (like uncrossed arms, a smile, eye contact, squared shoulders and a relaxed stance) conveys honesty and makes you more trustworthy.
Okay. Go there for a minute, to that awful moment when you would’ve given a kidney to unsay something or at least get a do-over. We’ve all been there. Sometimes we say too much and mess up the message—and that’s why you have to know the point you need to make and then make it. What’s the main thing everyone needs to walk away knowing? Start and end with that. Careful though—being too short can come off rude or be just as confusing as droning on and on.
Did curiosity kill the cat? Probably not. Because if you show genuine curiosity in your team members’ work and home lives, they’ll feel understood and valued—and that leads to loyalty and motivation. Be present, ask great questions, and really listen to what’s being said (and what isn’t).
Remember, God gave you two ears and just one mouth for a reason. (Yep, your second grade teacher had that right.) Ask thoughtful questions and make a point of listening to the answers.
What you have to say matters! Sure, getting words out can be nerve-racking, but leaving them unsaid when other people need to hear from you isn’t fair to anyone. The more you speak up, the easier it gets. So, when you know you need to weigh in, do it. You have a seat at the table for a reason.
What happens when people don’t know what’s going on? They fill in the blanks themselves—and it’s always 10 times worse than reality. Telling the whole truth helps people feel less afraid, mad or skeptical. And if you build a team of grown-ups and then treat them like grown-ups in their work, you can speak to them like grown-ups. Resist any temptation to keep important information hidden from your team or leave conversations open to weird, fill-in-the-blank interpretation. But also use good judgment to know which details really matter. In your transparency, you never want to publicly embarrass or hurt a team member.
Pro tip: Communicate face-to-face as often as possible. Real human connection, with your devices and other distractions out of sight, is powerful.
Tricks to Help You Be a Cool, Calm and Effective Communicator
Sometimes there’s just no way around the unexpected or hard conversations. So what do you do? When you need to give an answer fast, use these tricks to keep your head from spinning and your words from jumbling:
- Ask the person to repeat their statement or question.
- Ask a clarifying question.
- Take a deep breath.
- Pause and collect your thoughts—silence really can be golden.
- Ask for time. It’s perfectly fine to ask if you can come back to the conversation later after you’ve gathered facts or processed new information.
- Agree to disagree—respectfully.
Barriers to Effective Listening: Things Not to Do
Good leaders have to be good listeners. Whether you’re helping a team member process the loss of their cat or frustration with a work project, here’s what to avoid:
- Fake or half listening
- Planning your response while the person’s still talking because you’ve come to your conclusion and stopped listening
- Redirecting the conversation to yourself: what you know, what you would do to solve the problem, or what you’ve experienced
- Downplaying the person’s thoughts and feelings
It’s pretty simple really: Treat people the way you want to be treated.
Top 10 Tools for Better Company Communication
We mentioned earlier that only 13% of companies are getting it right with communication.2 Here are 10 tools to help you join the ranks of communication rock stars:
1. Your story.
Sharing your organization’s story shows people their place in your history and helps them feel part of something bigger than themselves. Share your history, values, dreams, vision, and goals often. When your team members know, believe and own them, they will help you fulfill your mission.
2. Staff meetings.
Start the week (yes, every week) with a staff meeting. Celebrate victories, mourn losses, and share what’s going on in the business. Even if your team is spread all over the country or world, meet weekly and prioritize real human-to-human gatherings to build unity.
3. Static meetings.
Nobody likes unnecessary meetings, but there are three important meetings that are a must for keeping your team members connected and moving full speed ahead.1. One-on-ones between supervisors and direct reports. Regular stand-ups for teams that work closely together (like marketing or sales squads) to make sure they know what they’re working on and have the tools to do their work.3. Departmental meetings to share information and celebrate completed work There’s one more meeting you might want to keep in mind: a skip-level meeting. It happens when a top leader bypasses the normal reporting structure to meet directly with team members who report to other leaders. These meetings are rare but could make sense if you’re a business leader who needs fresh perspective from team members you don’t normally hear from.
4. Sources of truth.
These include things like your company’s standard operating procedures, HR forms and info, style guides, directories and training guides. Make it easy for your team to find the answers they need on an internal website or a hard-copy manual.
5. Feedback tools.
Of course you care about how and what your team is doing. But the truth is, you probably don’t always do a great job checking in when you’re putting out fires and checking off lists. A one-page Weekly Report system could be the lifeline you never knew you needed. It’s a chance for every team member to list their high and low of the week and give a handful of other updates that you can review and respond to as needed.
And since you’re on a roll with great feedback tools, you might also consider building an internal survey for events, opinions and ideas to give your team a voice.
6. Key Results Areas (KRAs).
These aren’t your typical dreaded goal sheets required by HR. KRAs are super practical job descriptions your team members create to nail down their responsibilities and clarify what winning looks like in their role.
7. Annual reviews.
Setting up an annual one-on-one meeting with every team member (on top of the continual feedback you’re giving them) is one more way to make sure they have a chance to talk through ideas, problems and questions and also go over their pay.
8. Virtual communication, software and apps.
Living in the digital age gives us all the best and worst of email, texts, team chats, video conferencing, project tracking and other communication tools. Efficient? Yes. Room for wrong assumptions and heated digital conversations? Also yes. Enjoy the convenience of sending a message to five people at once or viewing a workflow dashboard at 2 a.m., but also beware of digital limitations (and never lose human connection).
9. Management by walking around and old-fashioned appreciation.
We’ve talked meetings, forms and tools, but there’s another tried and true way to build loyalty with your team: Go see them in person. Crazy, isn’t it? Management by walking around is where you literally stop by a person’s desk to say hi, thank them for a job well done, or follow up on something you learned from their Weekly Report. Handwritten notes go a long way to show appreciation too!
10. Team-building activities.
Great teams eat and play together! And when you do that, you’ll get to know more of the fun things like your team member’s obsession with cat sweaters or their sensitivity to bologna breath. That’s the stuff deeper relationships are made of. Seriously. So, make lunches and company activities—like bingo nights and ice cream socials—a priority.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” Translation: There’s always opportunity to get better at communication. Weekly Reports give you a weekly one-page snapshot from every team member so you can see (and respond to) their highs and lows, morale, stress and workload. It’s a game changer for trust, care and communication! Weekly Reports is just one feature included in EntreLeadership Elite to help you lead your team, grow your business, and create a world-class culture. And Elite is free for your first 30 days. Check out how to start your free trial.