One of the most important things I was slow to learn in business was that real communication only happens when your audience finally hears and understands what you think is a perfectly clear message. As a business executive and leader, I found that meant I had to repeat most communication several times, in different contexts, before all members of my team really heard it.
I’m sure that you, as a manager or team leader, have felt the frustration of hearing feedback comments like “I wish someone had told me” or “I didn’t know you wanted that.” Unfortunately the comments you don’t hear from customers, business partners, and peer leaders are the ones that do you the most damage. Here is my list of the most common ways that key messages get lost:
Lack of trust and confidence in you by receivers. People do not really listen to someone who does not have their trust, and will routinely discount any message value. Thus you must work on relationships first, before attempting to provide leadership, guidance, and direction to receivers. Confidence and trust lead to agreement and action.
Evidence continues to mount that companies with trusted leaders, such as Zappos, tend to outperform others in financial results, as well as team satisfaction, by as much as three to one. That alone is enough reason for every leader to keep building good relationships.
Neglect to set the context for the message. The responsibility is on you as the communicator to make sure your intended receivers are ready to receive your message, meaning that they are listening, and understand your priorities and values. We are all overloaded with data from all directions, so first you have to get their attention focused.
Too much dependence on lingo and jargon. Don’t assume that team members and customers have the same familiarity with technical abbreviations that you do. Use clear and concise language, aimed at a medium grade level, or people will ignore the message as incomprehensible or insulting. Test your message on a spouse or family member first.
Follow the examples of two top technical leaders today, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, who have established reputations not only of being innovative thinkers, but also effective communicators who believe in clear, concise messages with no technical jargon.
Not using transparency, honesty, and full disclosure. People sense quickly when you are withholding partial information, perhaps in an effort to protect them or mislead them. This negates the message, erodes trust in you the deliverer, and causes people not to listen in the future. Assume that all your messages with be cross-checked and validated.
Failure to address assumptions and culture. Effective communication always requires consideration of language barriers, gender and age norms, and media protocols. For example, you would never use the same words and tone in an email, text message, or on social media. Be aware of the demographics and role of all recipients, and play to it.
Not controlling background noise or distractions. Carefully pick the right time and place for key messages. Don’t bury them in so much information that attention spans are exceeded. Carefully manage the environment so that people are not distracted by other activities or noise that may override the recognition and retention of your key points.
People do not agree, and ignore the message. Intended receivers who totally disagree with a message will claim they never heard it, or actually not remember it, unless you repeat it often and rephrase it to match their context. It is to your advantage to tune your message for maximum fit to their perspective, and full awareness of their concerns.
It’s important to remember that as a business leader, your impact and effectiveness is directly related to your ability to deliver messages and communicate exceptionally well. Of course, delivering messages is not just saying the right thing, but also listening, writing, body language, and practicing what you preach. Fortunately these are skills you can learn and practice.
The acid test is the feedback you are getting, or not getting. No questions does not always mean that everyone has heard and is acting on your message. Maybe it’s time to be more proactive in follow up, seeking feedback from others about how you can communicate more effectively.