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Effective Communication
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The single best way new leaders can improve their communication skills is for them to learn to listen actively. Two parties are involved in any communication; a speaker and a listener. It is more exciting, more dominant, to speak than to listen, so many times what people end up doing (leaders included) is to use the time they are supposed to be listening to think up new things they will say once the speaker stops speaking. This is listening of a sort, but it is not active listening! In active listening, the listener attentively focuses on what the speaker is saying so as to maximize comprehension of what is being said. Active listening is a sign of respect. Leaders who listen actively come to command the respect of their colleagues because they communicate respect. If a new leader can do only one thing, active listening is likely to have the most immediate impact.

Listening well sensitizes a leader to the myriad ways that messages can fail to get across as intended. Successful communication depends on successful transmission of a message from a speaker to a listener. While some message usually gets through, anyone who has ever played the childhood game 'telephone' knows that it is often garbled and altered during transmission. Clearly stated messages may not have been listened to all that actively, and even motivated listeners may misinterpret vague or complex messages. In any event, new leaders should become aware that what they say may not be comprehended as they intended. To maximize the possibility of being correctly understood, new leaders should do two things: make sure that their communications are concise, clear and well written, and check to see that key information was comprehended as desired.

There is no substitute for strong writing and presenting skills. While not everyone is born a great communicator, effective writing and speaking skills can be learned by most motivated students willing to practice repeatedly until their skills improve. Being willing to have one's efforts critiqued by someone competent to take on an editorial role is also essential, as improvements are impossible to make without constructive accurate feedback.

Receiver comprehension, not sender eloquence, determines communication success. Presentation, whether before a group, by phone, or by email, cannot be judged successful until there is confirmation that the intended message was received. Few people have the time to conduct formal studies after each significant communication, but anyone can (and should consider) doing spot checks as proves appropriate.

The very worst method of communication leaders might attempt is to make employees play a "guess what I'm thinking" game. Employees should never have to read a leader's mind. Instead, employees should always (ideally) know what is expected of them and where they stand. Secrecy (when it is not vital to shareholder interests) or intentional obfuscation by a leader (as part of a 'job security' strategy) is seldom a good idea. Some closed-lipped leaders attempt to justify their communication failures by saying they like to play it "close-to-their chest" or they use a "need-to-know" criteria. No matter what flavor of rationalization they might use, however, their inability or unwillingness to communicate effectively makes them far less effective than their more communicative colleagues.

 

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