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Effective Communication in Leadership

The simple definition of communication, according to the Miriam-Webster dictionary, is: "The act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviors to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc., to someone else."


Sounds simple, right? But if leaders and organizations don’t communicate effectively, employees will naturally assume the worst. Great communicators engage their audience; they include them by asking their opinions, using their suggestions, and responding to their feedback.

In communication, everything counts. These basics are non-negotiable when it comes to being an effective communicator:

  • Empathy. The ability to share in another’s emotions and thoughts.
  • Body language. Actions speak louder than words. People are walking billboards advertising their feelings. Passing someone in the hallway and saying “hi” with a smile conveys that person is approachable and happy.
  • Listening. When we listen and pay attention to people, we honor them.

All forms of listening are not equal, however. Rob describes the five levels of listening (or not listening, in some cases):

  1. Ignoring. You walk into a coffee shop and two employees are having a personal conversation while you stand there waiting for acknowledgement. MMFI is one of Rob’s acronyms – make me feel important.
  2. Pretend listening. Have you ever talked to someone who acknowledges with “uh huh”? But when you ask them a question, they have no idea what you’re talking about?
  3. Selective listening. We hear only the parts we want to hear and disregard the rest.
  4. Attentive listening. You consciously decide to listen and stay in the moment. If your mind wanders, you automatically bring it back around and engage.
  5. Empathic listening. The highest form of listening. You not only want to listen and hear what someone says, you want to understand how they feel.

Don’t deny the power of positive words. Yes beats no. Of course beats maybe. Always tell people what you CAN do. Find a way to stay positive. And never, ever forget to say thank you.

"Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiasm to others. If a leader can't get a message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message doesn't even matter."

— Gilbert Amelio President and CEO of National Semiconductor Corp

Don’t forget...Communication

When people talk about the functions of management, several words always rise to the top - planning, organizing, staffing, and leading. But what’s the one common thread that ties all of them together? Communication. There’s a deep connection between trust and communication. They’re interwoven, one depending on the other. Trust is the foundation of communication and communication is paramount to building trust. Once trust is lost, communication and leading go right along with it.

How can leaders build trust in communication?

By creating a culture of trust.

Consistency. Say what you’re going to do and do it. Ensure your messages align with what you say and how you act. Every time, over and over. It’s a simple and effective way to build trust when you show employees you’re reliable and trustworthy.

Character. Being a decent person and doing the right thing. Be accountable and admit to mistakes. When you lead by example, your employees will follow suit.

Clarity. Be clear and concise when discussing strategies and goals through any form of communication with employees. Always be realistic and never over promise anything you can’t deliver.

Collaboration. Asking employees for input shows you value other people’s feedback and opinions. By not only including them in the process, but by using their ideas, you build trust and loyalty over time while making them part of the solution.

Caring. In the video, Rob talked about the importance of empathy and empathic listening. Let people know you care by acknowledging their feelings and concerns.

Candor. Be honest and authentic especially in times of doubt. Don’t try to twist the situation into something positive because people easily recognize lying. People prefer the truth over a lie or a half-truth, even if it’s hard to handle.

About Rob Bell

Rob-Bell-Photo.jpgRob began teaching his customer service and communication techniques early in his tenure as the Personnel Development and Education & Training Director for Dick’s Supermarkets, Inc. Drawing on 25+ years of experience in leadership roles, customer service, and training, Rob makes it simple, clear and FUN to improve customer service and gain leadership skills.

Before becoming Dick’s Supermarkets’ go-to-guy for training, Rob worked as the accounting manager for a large trucking company, an auditor, and an adjunct instructor at the University of Wisconsin – Platteville. Rob now tours the country teaching the principles that have helped hundreds of companies and organizations improve their communication strategies.

Topics: Human Resources