Anyone who spends any time looking at how successful people work will realise that they all have one thing in common: they are excellent communicators. Communication is a critical factor in leadership. Become a good communicator and there is a strong chance you will become a good leader. However, if you fail to communicate properly, you will never realise your true potential as a leader.
Managers frequently tell me that they have problems when it comes to motivating their staff. In that situation, it’s easy to see how they can be tempted to blame the employees: they aren’t committed or dedicated enough and it shows in their lack of motivation.
However, it’s far more productive to look at it from the other angle. It’s up to us as managers and leaders to find the right way to motivate our staff and inspire them so they can reach their potential, and in turn help our businesses to do the same.
There’s no single approach to being a great communicator. Each person we deal with will respond better to certain kinds of communication than to others – so it is up to the communicator to find the best way for each individual. Those qualities of flexibility and adaptability can turn a good communicator into a great one.
What sets the best communicators apart is the way they deal with responses to their communication. They understand that others will have views which aren’t necessarily the same as their own, but they are willing to listen to them and take different views on board. It’s also important for communicators to realise that they can be wrong, and to be able to admit that to people. As an employee, there is nothing more frustrating than a manager who always blindly believes that they are right, and won’t listen to anyone else’s point of view or back down, even when they are shown to be wrong.
Understanding is one of the first steps to being a great communicator. If you find your message isn’t getting through, take a moment to stop and think about why that might be. Listen to what your employees are saying to you – and what they’re not saying – and think about how to bridge the gap between your views and theirs. Then, try a different approach.
Secondly, remember that listening is a hugely important part of communication. Many leaders make the mistake of thinking that communicating is all about saying things – but it’s just as much about listening to those you are communicating with. A conversation is, by definition, a two-way interaction.
As well as being good at getting your message across, you need to be able to show your employees that you are listening to them. There are several key elements to being a good listener:
- Think about using open body language, including eye contact and a positive posture, such as not crossing your arms.
- Show that the person you are listening to has your full attention. Don’t fidget with your pen, stare out of the window or check your phone.
- Don’t interrupt, or try to finish the person’s sentences.
- Don’t, however, stay silent – it can be very offputting to the speaker! Instead, make positive, encouraging noises, such as “really?” and “yes”, and nod your head.
- Finally, ensure you have taken in what the person has said, and take a moment to consider your response before speaking. There’s nothing more frustrating than finding your manager doesn’t respond to what you’ve said, but instead talks about something completely different – it gives the impression that he or she hasn’t been listening at all.
However, listening doesn’t begin and end with taking in what people are saying. If you pay close attention to a speaker, you can gather as much information from their body language as from the words that are coming out of their mouths. Once you get into the habit of reading people’s physical signals, you will be amazed by what you can pick up.
For example, eyes are one of the biggest clues to a person’s emotions. Staring into the distance or looking upwards suggests they are visualizing something, while looking down suggests they are experiencing a feeling or emotion. A person who is listening carefully and taking in what someone else is saying will often glance to the side.
The easiest way to start using these subtle signs is to listen carefully to the words the person is saying. When you hear certain phrases which suggest they may be visualising something, you can then look for the eye signals to confirm it. The same applies to the other signs.
When you begin looking for these signals, you will soon find that people show them all the time without being aware they are doing so. It is a very valuable way of listening – and can even be used while you are talking once you know what you are looking for. You can then be sure that, when you are suggesting a new project or asking for help with something, your staff are listening, taking it in and visualising how they will make it work for you and your business.
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