Communication can separate the so-so from the strong leaders. And it can also have a clear impact on an organization's bottom line: Of the 2 in 5 projects that fail to meet original goals, one of them does so because of ineffective communication, according to research by the Project Management Institute.
This is particularly important for coaching leaders, who may be responsible for communicating the Business Vision, and who use one-on-one meetings to grow and develop their employees. As Executive Coach Dan Foster says, "A coaching leader is dedicated to the development of people and uses regular one-on-one meetings to maximize the potential of the people they’re leading.”
Strengthening your communication style doesn't require an overnight overhaul of how you speak. Instead, try folding a few of these five strategies into your regular communication style. Over time, they'll become second nature and boost your leadership development efforts to have the most effective leadership.
Use Smart Repetition
You might know your points inside and out, but listeners have to hear information more than once for it to stick.
As salesman and author Zig Ziglar famously said, "Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment." When we repeat key information, we help our team members feel confident in what they're learning so they can better fulfill expectations and achieve the team and organization's goals.
Advertisers and marketers understand this concept well. Some argue that repeating a message three times is enough for people to remember it, while others say a prospect needs to see or hear a message 7 or more times before taking action.
So, don't shy away from repetition during a presentation, speech or conversation with an employee; voicing your key bullet points more than once adds emphasis and makes it easier for your team to remember your takeaways in the future.
Lean on Analogies
Analogies "instantaneously put everyone on the same page and can help resolve conflict," ZinePak CEO Kim Kaupe told Inc. magazine. "One person's vision of 'large' may be different than another. By using clarifying questions and an analogy you can pinpoint (e.g. 'Do you mean large like an elephant or like a large FedEx envelope?'), you'll know everyone is envisioning the same end goal."
Analogies bridge our communication gaps. And by nature, they convey a common understanding, which helps listeners feel more connected to the speaker.
You may have noticed that startups love to use analogies to explain how they're "the Uber of childcare" or "the Whole Foods of pet supplies." Borrow some strategies from this school of thought and think about how a well-deployed analogy can help clarify your next project or plan.
Match Your Audience
Odds are, you use a different tone and stance when you're talking to your officemate than making a client presentation or negotiating a difficult contract. That's because we subconsciously work to mimic the body language and vocal patterns of our audience, which helps put others at ease.
"The more comfortable you make someone feel, the better interview you're ultimately going to get," pro interviewer Katie Couric told Fast Company — and the same applies to how you communicate with colleagues. To maximize this benefit, pay attention to energy level, body language, volume and formality. If you walk into a meeting where everyone's seated, take a seat. If a team member swings by with a casual inquiry, keep your tone equally light.
Similarly, it's important to understand your team members' individual communication styles. When you're talking to your team members in person, some may prefer clear direction, while others may need you to be a bit softer around the edges to communicate that you truly care. Effective leadership is all about knowing your team and how to best lead each member.
Understanding personalities and communication styles can help you see how the way you communicate is perceived by your team members. In our era of "always-on" communication, it may be easy for you to fire off emails at 9 p.m., but that might make some people on your team feel the pressure to work at all hours of the day and night.
One of the best ways to get clarity on your team members' communication styles is to have everyone on your team take the DISC Assessment. It's a powerful tool that not only helps each individual understand their own communication needs and how others perceive them but also how to better interact and collaborate with those around them.
You can even take this a step further by bringing a DISC Workshop to your team. In our Improving Communication Through DISC workshop, our executive coaches help leaders and teams build on their individual communication strengths and learn how to adapt to the communication styles of others to improve working relationships, sales skills and leadership effectiveness.
Prep Enough to Go Off-Script
It can be tempting to script out exactly what you want to cover in a meeting or presentation, but the best communicators know how to read a room and when to deviate from the plan.
Whether it's an insightful question from a coworker or a room full of confused expressions, effective communicators are always ready to venture where the conversation naturally takes them. That means doing enough prep work in advance so you can confidently field questions and make recommendations, but not so much prep that you have a rigid structure in mind.
You can start by asking yourself what doubts or questions you might have if someone were sharing your message with you for the first time. By getting clear on what you're trying to communicate and why it matters to your team, you'll be better equipped to respond to questions and concerns with empathy and information.
"Stories are the super glue of communication," write Andy Craig and Dave Yewman in Bloomberg Businessweek. Stories are rich and engaging, peppered with details and emotions.
"The stories you tell at weekend parties are jargon-free and far more memorable than the corporate blather we spew in the office," Craig and Yewman add.
The trick to communicating through a story is to tell it with all the color and detail you'd share with friends. By helping your team members visualize what you're saying, you're painting a mental picture that will far outlast any statistics or data you share. And a memorable story is much more practical for your team members to recall and put into action.
The next time you're talking about an awesome new product or discussing a thorny process issue, think about what story you can use to illustrate your point.
Effective Communication for Effective Leadership
Whether you're leading a company meeting or talking one-on-one with a team member, you can communicate effectively by following a few simple strategies.
- Repeat key points to ensure your team members remember them
- Use analogies to make sure everyone's on the same page
- Mirror the body language, patterns and communication style of each individual
- Prepare for potential questions without completely scripting out what to say
- Share stories to illustrate key points and help your team members remember them
As you become a more effective communicator, you'll see more engaged employees, more successful projects and better results for your team and organization.
This is an updated version of an earlier post, originally published July 22, 2015.