“Communication is your ticket to success, if you pay attention and learn to do it effectively.” -Theo Gold
In my last article, I briefly touched on authentic leadership via various crucial aspects. One of these aspects was communication.
As a leader, you need to be versed in various styles of communication in order to fit a variety of circumstances. Communication is how you influence your team. If you can’t communicate effectively, you can’t influence.
Leaders come in all different shapes, sizes and personalities. You may not be the extroverted type so you have to find a way to communicate that fits your personality. But you also have to be aware of the modes of receptivity each individual in your group possesses on any given day. This requires you to read the room effectively.
Most of my time as a union steward was spent communicating. Communicating to management, to my team, communicating during meetings, interpreting and conveying various complex clauses of our union contract to team members, etc. Each situation called for a different style of communication.
In this article, I’m going to talk about 8 different communication styles you need to be fluent in to be an effective leader.
As a union steward, I spent a lot of time coaching members. I started by distributing the contract and having them read through it bit by bit throughout their time at the company.
Whenever management would call us into the office over a dispute, try to intimidate them or scare them out of asserting their rights, I would “call a caucus” in the hallway in order to get them to cool off and to “coach” them on how to handle the situation.
Coaching is the offspring of teaching and advising. Your job is to set up a schema for your team member to follow to execute specific objectives.
When coaching, try not to be too pushy. Give your team member the freedom to mix their own creativity into the subjects you coach them on.
Coaching allows for the team member to create their own frame of reference rather than depend on you to provide every step of the way.
There are different coaching styles too. I loved to coach on the job. Coaching on the job allows for your team member to learn from their mistakes as they proceed through the fluctuating terrain of the work field.
They learn much faster this way as well. The only down side to this style of coaching is that it takes time. When strapped for time while preparing for a particular event, it’s better to drill the knowledge then have the member come up with their own methods after the pressing event has passed.
Learn to Listen
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”-Stephen Covey
This is something that many of you need to work on. I know I did. When I first stepped into my role as a union steward, I was passionate, hard nosed and wanted things done my way.
I learned quickly that that’s not how leadership worked. Eventually I took the time to hone my listening skills and that made my leadership skills that much better.
I was already decent at listening as I was good enough to campaign on things that the members voiced as their concerned. But in order to move forward to achieve the members concerns I had to listen in order to figure out how we were going to achieve these concerns collectively. That took next level listening.
Listening should be the most frequently used form of communication for every leader.
If you want to become a good listener, talk less. Some leaders run their mouths so much they can’t hear what any of their team members have to say. Listen with your ears but also listen with your eyes.
This means that you’ll have to learn to “read between the lines.” Your team might not be able to readily verbalize their needs. So you have to be adept at acquiring this information.
When you utilize all forms of listening in order to truly gather all of the necessary information, you’ll have the knowledge to execute any situation with the most effective method of communication.
Teaching is the most opportune time to roll your sleeves up and get dirty with you team members. It’s how you lead from the front. When you see a team member struggling with something, be careful not to offend by immediately jumping in to “show them how it’s done.”
You need to assess the situation by first listening. Suggest some ways for them to make corrections but do it in such a way that they think it’s their idea if you can.
Also explain what the benefits of doing it the way you’re showing them are. Neglecting to explain why it’s beneficial to do things a certain way will make it seem as if you’re micromanaging them. It also makes you seem as if you’re a know it all.
Direct Don’t Dictate
Theres a fine line between directing and dictating. In order to effectively direct others, set up a series of steps your team needs to take in order to complete a task.
Where direction and dictation differ is in the delivery. Pay attention to your tone of voice, your demeanor, body language, etc. These things matter more than you know.
The only time I would advise dictating is if you’re pressed for time and something is due soon. Even then, explain to the team member the situation and have them take direct instructions.
This one is powerful but tricky. Motivation can be transferred to the team by morale boosting rhetoric and brilliant oratory. This is one of my strengths as a leader. If you have the tendency to be charismatic and energetic, it should be no problem getting your team riled up.
Here’s the thing. You have to read the room at all times. Despite the fact that your team may need encouragement from time to time, not everyone will respond to it the same way. Some people hate upbeat, energetic people. Brilliant oratory by way of platitudes my be off putting for some.
On the other hand, motivational speaking my rile people up so much that it becomes masturbatory for them. You know the kind of people I’m talking about. You might even be one of them. The type that needs a little encourage, goes home, watches an Eric Thomas speech, gets pumped then as soon as the speech goes off does nothing at all.
The key is striking a balance. Read the room, see where your team is at morale-wise and proceed from there. But this is something that should be in your arsenal when a demoralizing event inevitably comes your way.
This is where your problem-solving skills come into play. As a leader, you’ll be putting out fires on a consistent basis. You’ll have lots of practice and eventually you’ll get better at it.
When it comes to providing problem-solving methods for your team, introduce them to “Solomons Paradox.” Solomons Paradox is when someone is able to reason much more logically and effectively about problems that are not of their own. Train your team members to take the perspective of specific problems they’re having with a project as if it were another team members problem.
This is where you teach team members life long skills that they can carry well into other endeavors long after they moved on from working under you.
Non-Verbal: Body Language
I can write a separate article on body language alone. This style of communication is one of the most important when meeting new team members.
First impressions are everything. They take less than 10 seconds to make and a life time to break. How you imprint yourself on the mind of someone when meeting them for the first time will set the tone for the duration of your relationship together.
What’s does your body language say about you? Is it warm? Is it welcoming? Does your body language communicate trust?
Here are some quick “Dos and Don’ts” of body language.
- Make Eye Contact — If you want to convey trust and sincerity, make eye contact. But don’t beam daggers through their skulls. Making eye contact means that you see the person. You feel them. You’re with them. I personally don’t trust people who refuse to make eye contact with me. It’s a sign that they’re omitting vital information.
- Smile — It’s ok to smile. This is a positive signal that you’re warm and trustworthy. When you smile, you invite your team member to come to you if they have an issue.
- Shake Hands — This is the fastest way to break the touch barrier and establish rapport. A quick, firm handshake is worth a few hours of time spent together. I’ve always made an effort to shake hands with new team members, even when it was clear they didn’t like me from the start for whatever reason.
- Fold Your Arms — This is off putting and intimidating. It shows that you are closed off and unwelcoming.
- Put Your Hands In Your Pockets — This makes you come off as timid. When I see a person with their hands in their pockets I see them as unprofessional and uptight. It can also make you look arrogant.
- Stand Too Close — Keep a healthy distance. I’ve had this one manager who use to stand so close to me that I could smell what he had for breakfast. I’m pretty sure he was trying to intimidate me. The point here is learn to respect people’s space. If you don’t you could scare them away and you can also incur a lawsuit.
As a leader you need to be a high self-monitor in order to be aware of the energy you’re projecting outward to your team members. Find the right balance of various forms of body language to connect with team members.
Enlist A Chain Of Command
This one is for my introverts. A chain of command can act as a mode of communication when you struggle with communication. You can have one or a few intermediaries to convey your message to your team. These people should be much better at communicating things than you are.
The problem I have with this is that it’s easy for your message to become subject to misinterpretation. Similar to the game of telephone. You give your message to the first person in your chain of command then by the time it reaches your team the message has completely changed.
If you’re going to use a chain of command, use it as a last resort with people you have heavily vetted and can trust to carry out your messages.
You might use chain of command when you’re out sick or if you have a family emergency or something so pressing that you have to leave others in charge.
The key to using these communication styles is to know when to use each one. As a leader you must be versatile. You must possess proper discernment in knowing when which style will have the most effective impact in any a specific situation.
As a leader you have the knowledge and information to execute a specific vision. Communication is the exchange of this knowledge and information.
You have to find a mode of translation for this information from your brain to the brains of the individuals in your team. Being skilled in various styles will help you to do so.