27 September 2023

Bridging the communication gap

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John Eades* says leaders who fail to communicate properly risk spreading confusion. He has some suggestions for bringing clarity to what they say or write.

Communication is essential in every aspect of life that deals with relationships.

When it comes to leadership, a failure to communicate consistently is the beginning of the end.

However, just because it’s critical doesn’t mean most leaders are good at it.

My research has found that clarity is the most common leadership skill plaguing high-performing and low-performing leaders.

When leaders struggle to communicate with clarity, it creates confusion.

For clarity (see what I did there), let’s get on the same page about what it means in the context of leadership.

Clarity is the ability to be clear, concise, and impactful when communicating verbally or in writing.

Leaders tend to struggle with clarity for one of three reasons:

False assumptions

Leaders live so much in their heads that they assume people know, and often they don’t.

Premature thoughts

In our fast-paced business environment, it’s almost encouraged to say or write something before it is well thought out or complete.

Incomplete information

There is a growing sense to communicate regardless of whether managers have all the information or not.

Of the three, false assumptions are the most important to unpack and solve.

Speaking on a recent John Eades podcast, Jason Barger, author of the new book Breathing Oxygen, said clarity was not only kind, but essential.

“Clarity brings oxygen into the room, so it isn’t filled with worry, doubt, blame, and fear,” he said.

His words are wise because, in the absence of clear communication, team members will fill the gaps with their own incorrect stories.

Too often, leaders make assumptions that they have communicated with clarity.

In one of my favourite books of all time, The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, he wrote: “Assumptions set us up for suffering.”

Since each leader might be transparent in their communication one day and struggle with it the next, small changes often lead to big gains.

For these small changes to take effect, they must be made prior to communicating instead of after.

Small changes in communication can lead to big gains in comprehension and execution.

A straightforward strategy I coach leaders to leverage is to ask themselves one of three questions before communicating.

Is what I am about to say or write helpful?

What action do I desire others to take?

Is this making the waters clearer or murkier?

While these three questions are simple, it doesn’t mean they are easy to answer.

However, if you get in the habit of asking yourself one of these questions before hitting send on an email or text, I promise you will improve your clarity.

Here is the tricky part: This is much easier to do with written communication.

Verbal communication is much more difficult.

Often you are speaking off the cuff or after an emotional response, thus making it exponentially more difficult.

A tiny strategy you can use is to ask the person or people you are communicating with a simple question when you are finished speaking.

“What was your main takeaway from what I said?”

While this technique might make you feel a little bit like a primary school teacher, it dramatically reduces the likelihood of assumptions taking place.

Being more clear in your communication won’t be easy.

The challenge to you is to get in the habit of asking yourself those questions before communicating.

I promise others will thank you.

*John Eades is the Chief Executive of LearnLoft a leadership development company. He can be contacted at johneades.com.

This article first appeared at johneades.com.

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