The Most Important Part of Communication 

I used to sell a training course on communication. The course was literally world famous and is still taken by thousands and thousands of people each year all over the world. Most of the people who sign up for the course claim to want to become better communicators but what they really want is to be better speakers. 

There is a big difference between being a better speaker and a better communicator. They learn the difference in the very first week of that 12 week class. They discover that there are two parts to communication. Talking, which is what they signed up to learn, and listening, which they think they are already good at. 

The best communicators understand the difference between a dialogue and a monologue. They know that when they listen they learn. They linger on the words of the person speaking until they are certain that they understand their intent. 

The best communicators listen more than they talk. They know that saying something is no guarantee that it was heard. So they ask checking questions to ensure the person they are communicating with both heard and understood what was said. 

Great communicators don’t talk to another person, they talk with them. The difference in word choice and tone of voice allows for the possibility of real communication to take place. 

When I hear someone say that they learn a lot by talking to other people I immediately question (to myself) their communication skills. That’s because no one learns anything by talking. When we talk we are repeating what we already know, or think we know. It is when we stop talking to listen that we actually learn. When I hear someone say they learn a lot by listening to other people that’s when I know I’m talking with a good communicator. 

Here’s one surefire way you can be a better communicator this very day… put down the darn phone. I know it’s called a smart phone but if it was really smart it would shut itself off when it detected another life form within 3 feet of you. 

The number one cause of poor communication is distraction. The biggest distraction most of us deal with day in and day out is the hunk of electronics almost permanently attached to our hands. 

You cannot text and listen. You cannot watch videos and truly listen to another person. You can’t play whatever game you’re currently fascinated with and give another person’s words the attention they deserve. 

You cannot communicate if you’re not listening. Listening is the most important part of communication. Listening is the key that unlocks the words you need to use to deliver your message in a way that will be heard. Sometimes listening to another person speak is all you need to do to make a significant difference in their life. 

When you become a better listener you become a better person. You become better informed. You become a better friend, spouse and parent. 

You can be better in all those areas by making a decision to talk less and listen more. You may even discover that when you listen with complete attention you actually have nothing meaningful to add to the conversation. That’s when you know you’re truly a great communicator. 

Communication Always Matters

I’ve never met anyone in a leadership position who likes rumors. Rumors create lots of productivity and morale killing conversations. Not public conversations mind you, but the whispered hallway conversations that stop suddenly with the appearance of a supervisor. 

The people in leadership positions who dislike rumors the most are often the same ones who create the rumors to begin with. They create rumors by failing to communicate with their people. 

The people who work in your organization have a vested interest in what’s happening within the organization. Lots of people in leadership positions tell me they share information on a “needs to know basis.” Those leaders fail to understand that their people NEED to know. 

I understand that not all information can be shared within an organization. I also understand that far more information could be shared than is being shared in most organizations. 

Too many people in leadership positions don’t understand their people’s need to know. They want to know how the company they work for is doing. They want as clear a look into their potential future as possible. They crave information. That craving causes people to invent information when none is provided. That “invented” information is delivered to others in the form of a rumor. 

Authentic Leaders know that real information is the enemy of rumor. That’s why they provide as much information to their people as is legally and ethical possible. 

The most current example of people needing to know is still the whole pandemic situation. The omicron variant is the current Covid 19 variant making the news. I’m not very knowledgeable in the Greek language but I believe “omicron” is Greek for “who the hell knows.” 

But just because you may not have all the answers about what your organization is doing with regards to pandemic issues is no excuse to not provide your people with the answers you do have. 

While leaders are storing up information to present all at once they are creating the rumors they so dislike. One very large retail operation recently asked their employees to submit their proof of vaccination by the end of the year. No other information was provided, only a request to provide the proof by a certain deadline. No reasons where given for a request that seemed to come out of the blue. No consequences were provided in the event you failed to comply.

You can imagine the rumors that started. This company has hundreds of thousands of employees, that’s a whole lot of rumors going around. It is by all measures a really good company. One that has taken good care of their people during the entire pandemic. But it’s an example of how even otherwise very effective leaders can forget the importance of effective communication. 

I hold people who have the audacity to call themselves leaders to very high standards. One of those standards is continuous communication with the people they lead. It has never been easier to communicate with your people, even if they are spread out around the world. You can write a internal company blog. Create a weekly informational video. A simple Monday morning email update with a “what’s up” theme. 

Many leaders tell me that they don’t have time to do those things. Some of those leaders don’t have time because they are too busy putting out the fires started by the rumors they helped create. 

People in leadership positions make excuses for why they can’t communicate with their people. Authentic Leaders don’t make excuses, they make communication plans and they stick to them. 

If They Didn’t Hear it Then You Didn’t Say It

Leaders must be effective communicators. They must accept 100% responsibility for the success of all communications. When what they communicated was fully understood by those it was communicated to then and only then has successful communication taken place. 

Authentic Leaders never assume that communication has taken place merely because they said something. They don’t use more words than are required to clearly communicate. They don’t use bigger words than needed to be completely understood. 

They also don’t blame others for their failure to communicate effectively. They ask follow-up questions of the person they are talking with to determine if what was heard matches what they said. 

Notice I said “talking with,” not talking to. The most effective communicators understand the difference between a monologue and a dialogue. Authentic leaders know that true communication is an exchange of information.  That’s why they listen as much as they talk, actually many listen more than they talk. 

Lack of communication or miscommunication is the genesis of most conflict. 

If you’re a leader and your people didn’t understand what you communicated then you didn’t communicate. At least not effectively. You may have been better off saying nothing at all. 

Never mistake talking for communicating. Speak and listen. Verify what was said was actually heard. Verify what you heard was actually said. Authentic leaders don’t guess at what was said and they don’t assume what they said was heard. 

Poor communication skills can stop the momentum of the best organizations. It can damage the morale of the of even the most positive people. It can undermine the culture of a company. Poor communication starts more rumors than a room full of gossiping fools. 

Improve your communication skills and you’ll improve all aspects of your leadership. Struggle with your communication skills and all of your relationships will suffer as a result. 

They are called communication “skills” because like any skill they can developed and enhanced. You only have to commit to make it so!

Successful Communication

Good communicators know that just because something was said doesn’t mean it was heard. Great communicators know that even if it was heard it doesn’t mean it was understood. 

Lack of communication can be deadly for an organization, most people realize that. What some people, and unfortunately some leaders, don’t understand is that miscommunication can be just as deadly. Wars, including world wars, have literally been caused by miscommunication. 

One cause of miscommunication is an ill informed communicator. One thing I often tell people who want to be a better presenter is that if you know what you’re talking about there is no need to be nervous. I also tell them that if you don’t know what you’re talking about there is no need to be talking. 

Even well informed communicators can sometimes miscommunicate. But the very best communicators don’t. They consistently apply the following four principles for successful communication. 

First they simplify their message. They skip the lingo and use easy to understand words and phrases. They don’t use more words than required. They don’t use four syllable words when a two syllable word will do. Lessor communicators want to be impressive. Great communicators want to make an impression. 

The best communicators see the person or people they are talking with. Notice I said talk “with.” They do not talk to and they certainly don’t talk at people. They know their audience and try hard to speak in the interests of those people. 

Great communicators know that the communication doesn’t end when they leave the stage or meeting room. They know people will be watching them to determine if what they said was the truth. So they don’t only speak the truth, they show it as well. Their actions match their words. Those actions reinforce and bring their message to life. Their actions add integrity not only to the words just spoken but to their future words too. 

Top communicators know that a good dialogue is better than the best monologue. So they engage their listeners and seek a response that indicates what they said matches what was heard. They ask a question or two to determine if what was heard was also understand. 

They accept 100% responsibility for the success of the communication. They never assume because they said something that real communication has taken place. 

Communication is a skill and by definition a skill is something that can be developed. But that development depends on a desire to in fact become a more effective communicator. Effective communication is a vital skill for an Authentic Leader. Successful communication leads to successful outcomes. 

Decide today that you will develop your communication skills and the people who you lead will thank you tomorrow. 

Weak Leaders – Part Five

Strong Authentic Leaders were at one time committed followers. Many of them still are, at least sometimes. 

If you have always struggled to follow someone else then you will most likely always struggle to earn the right to have someone else follow you. Leading someone requires their commitment. Weak leaders have no idea what is required to earn that commitment. Thus the best they can do is create more weak leaders. It is very uncommon for a weak leader to develop someone into a strong leader. 

I could write for days on what causes a lack of commitment but I can sum up it’s result in one word…insubordination. The act of insubordination can take many forms. It could be completely ignoring the requests of the leader. It might be doing the opposite or nearly the opposite, of what is needed for the organization to succeed. Often it is simply talking poorly about the leader behind their back.  

Talking behind a leaders back results in one of the most productivity killing activities an insubordinate follower can undertake. That activity is known as circular communication. Let’s say the leader directs follower number one to perform a particular task. Follower number one thinks it’s a ridiculous request. So follower number one needs to find someone to complain to, we’ll call that person follower number two. 

Follower number two is never chosen at random. They are carefully selected because they must possess one singular quality above all others. They must agree with follower number one that the leader is making a ridiculous request.

It’s also likely that follower number one finds a follower 3, 4, and 5 to complain to as well. Followers 2, 3, 4, and 5 may also tell several other people until finally word gets back to the leader that follower number one thinks the leader is making ridiculous requests. Then the messy circle is complete. 

So now there are multiple people involved, discussing an issue that only two people have the ability to solve. Only the leader and follower number one. By not going directly to the leader follower number one has impacted the productivity, and likely the morale, of many people in the organization. That’s circular communication.

Follower number one may find themselves in a leadership position one day but they will almost certainly be a weak leader.

If you’re in a middle leadership position today and you’re participating in circular communication then you will be seen as a weak leader. Because you probably are. 

Strong Authentic Leaders do not try to communicate to someone through others. They communicate directly with the person who they need to speak with. Indirect, circular communication is a trust killer. When you lose the trust of the people around you then you’ve lost the ability to earn the level of commitment required to lead. 

The five characteristics of weak leaders I have written about in this series are fairly common. The good news is that each of them can be overcome. It requires a weak leader to make a commitment to improve their leadership skills. 

People who convert themselves from weak leaders to strong leaders often do so with the help of a coach or a mentor. It’s tough to do on your because one of the things that make people a weak leader is their inability to see themselves as they really are. 

The eyes and the objectivity of a mentor can make a big difference…if you’re willing to listen to them and act on their recommendations. 

Most weak leaders are satisfied with holding a leadership position. Strong Authentic Leaders made the choice to make a difference in the lives of others. 

Your position of leadership can make a difference for you or you can make a difference with your leadership position. That choice is completely up to you! 

Listening is Free

I’m not sure if anyone has noticed but the world, yep, not only the US but the entire world seems divided right now. Never in my lifetime has the divide between different groups of people been wider.

Even in times of World Wars the divide was not as great as it is right now. Even during the World Wars people agreed on more things than they do today. Governments started those wars, not the people of the countries that were dragged into them.

But today is different. The universal language is one of hate. We throw the word hate around as if it almost has no real meaning. People claim to hate people who hate. “We” all hate all the hating going on these days.

We make slogans and signs about who and what matters. We talk about what must change and who must change. I’m struck by the number of people who “demand” immediate change yet refuse to look in the mirror to see if there is any change they could make personally.

Abraham Lincoln is famous for saying many things but one thing he said might be more applicable today than even the day he said it. When commenting on someone he was not particularly fond of he said, “I do not like that man. I need to get to know him better.”

Lincoln knew what too many people today seemingly have forgotten. That is that we human beings have far more in common than we give ourselves credit for. We can focus on the things that draw us together or we can focus on the things the push us apart. That’s a choice.

But that won’t happen until we do something else that seems to be a thing of the past.

That “thing” is called listening.

I mean real listening. Not reading someone’s social media posts. Not hearing some filtered version of what somebody thinks or what someone said someone said someone said. It’s a sad commentary on the world we live in but if you didn’t hear someone say it yourself then you might want to have some doubts about whether or not it was actually said.

Plus…don’t only listen to people who agree with you! Invite conversations with people who have vastly different views and life experiences than you. Do not think them wrong simply because their views are different than yours. Don’t talk to them, talk with them to determine where your views overlap. Build on that overlap!

I take great comfort from talking with people who share my views and beliefs. I like talking to my family and friends. But whatever growth I experience at this point in life comes from talking with people who frankly might not be my first choice to talk with.

You and I do not have to like the people who see the world differently than we do but we do need to understand how they view their life. We need to understand that if our life experiences were identical to theirs that our views would likely be identical too.

Most of all we need to get to know them better. The more we know about people the less chance there will be that we judge them. I want to say that again….the more you know about someone the less chance there is that you will judge them.

Listen more. Listen with your heart and your mind WIDE open. Listening is free but it just might be that it liberates you from hate. Listening is one of those things that while free it is also priceless!

Listening, really listening to different views could save you great pain. It could save your Country severe turmoil. Listening, truly truly listening to one another might even save the world.

Your People Are Watching

Leaders lead by example, whether they intend to or not. Their people are always watching them and they will do what the leader does far faster than they will do what the leader says.

That means that if you’re in a leadership position and your words and actions do not match then your people will follow your actions, not your words.

In times of difficulty, and these times are certainly that, it is imperative that you realize that you are the model for the behavior you want and need from your people. Very few people will outperform their leader in a time of crisis.

It’s also important for leaders to keep in mind that every person has this area in both their heart and head that NEEDS information. It doesn’t need accurate information, it just needs information. That area will get the information it needs come hell or high water. If it can’t find the information then it will make the information up. That type of information is called rumor.

I have never met a leader who thought that rumors were helpful. So keep this in mind…information, accurate, timely information is the archenemy of rumor. Rumor finds it much harder to exist in a sea of accurate and timely information.

So keep your people informed. You’ll be much better off with your people complaining about the ton of communication then you will be if your people are filling their information areas with fear filled rumors. Even bad and difficult information to hear is better than wrong information.

When times get challenging you simply cannot over communicate. If you’re wondering how much communication is too much I encourage you to risk what you may feel is too much information.

If you’re running a business in these uncharted waters you must remember to not lose focus on what is most important. No matter what you sell or what service you offer you are in the people business. The businesses that best take care of their people, both their employees and their customers will be the businesses that come out of the other side of this in the best shape.

The most important part of your business is people because we are all in the people business.

Now, wash your hands!