Leaders who are great communicators are the ones who are willing to take the next step to develop a culture of trust and connection with their team. In this article, I will explore seven practices that you can employ in your communication toolkit to help separate the best communicators from the rest.
“I don’t talk about myself in presentations,” Katherine said. “I’d rather stick to the numbers.”
I had just asked Katherine to consider sharing a bit of her story in her presentation so her teammates could get to know her and trust her. Katherine felt her trustworthiness was apparent and didn’t need to prove it by sharing something personal.
But the results of Katherine’s 360-Degree Evaluation — an evaluation process where one receives feedback from all around, including bosses, team members, and peers — said otherwise.
The results showed that she lacked strong relationships with her teammates. She was more of an aloof solo player than a collaborator, and she didn’t ask people to share their ideas.
Everyone agreed that Katherine was brilliant, but she hadn’t built the trust a great team needs to perform at their potential. As with every team, they needed to see that she was genuinely interested in them, capable of admitting mistakes, and vulnerable enough to ask for feedback.
In my 25 years of experience, I’ve come to realize that what separates great communicators from the rest comes down to 7 practices:
1.) Connect with Warmth
We notice all sorts of things about people — accent, dress, and posture, for example. But the two most influential traits are warmth and strength. To trust you, employees need warm communication first and strength second, according to Amy Cuddy, a renowned Harvard Social Scientist.
Public Speaking is an excellent way for people to get to know you. If you make warm connections, you can build relationships, which is why I had suggested to Katherine that she share part of her story.
As COVID restrictions have relaxed, there are more opportunities for in-person interactions. You can show people that you’re interested in them with a smile, offering a warm greeting or open gesture. Even in the virtual environment, you can demonstrate warmth and engagement. You can build a culture of conversation.
2.) Practice Imperfection: Enter Wabi-Sabi
In Japan, there is wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi is a Japanese philosophy that emphasizes the beauty of simplicity, the harmony of opposites, and the imperfections that add character to the world.
Wabi-sabi is often used in business to create a sense of organic simplicity and timelessness. It can help companies stand out from their competitors and foster a sense of community in their team.
Leaders who stiff-arm their team and don’t reveal their humanness will never lead a high-performance team. We all want leaders who can be genuine with us and share what life has taught them — leaders who can be vulnerable. The leader with authentic influence says, “Let me tell you about something I learned the hard way….”
Having a shared language and understanding is essential when working in a team. Wabi-sabi helps teams build a common understanding and language so that everyone can work together more effectively.
3.) Acknowledge People
Like so many leaders, Katherine wasn’t taking the time to communicate her appreciation of team members. “Why should I appreciate people for doing what they’re supposed to do?” she asked.
It’s simple. It’s because people need more than a paycheck to be engaged. High performers, in particular, need appreciation for their contributions.
If you want the best from people, provide positive feedback on their strengths and talent. The perfect time to do this is while public speaking at a company-wide event, since this kind of visibility in front of their peers is so important to high performers.
4.) Welcome Ideas
We like and trust leaders who are not threatened by people who speak their minds to offer value.
Amateur leaders become defensive when confronted with a difference in opinion — which is the kiss of death. People lose all respect for someone who argues when faced with an honest disagreement.
The best communicators ask, “I’m interested in what you think,” and “Tell me more about that.”
5.) Show Empathy
Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s problem or situation with the goal of understanding. For a leader, it means devoting precious time and focusing outside your own priorities. It helps us feel like a part of a community instead of isolated.
The practice of empathy can help us navigate times of turbulence. The leaders who came through the pandemic with a strong culture paid attention to the so-called “soft skills.” CEOs went virtual with information and solutions. They often communicated with empathy.
6.) Speak the Truth
Communicators who spin the truth do it because they feel they need to — to keep up appearances for the company, protect relationships or avoid awkward conversations.
But people have radar for BS. They pay attention to what you do, not what you say in public speeches.
The truth always catches up. Great leaders know that communicating with honesty and transparency will uphold their character, and truth-telling is non-negotiable.
7.) Ask for Help
Asking for help doesn’t come naturally to leaders — they hold themselves to the impossible standard of not needing help. But intuitive leaders know when they need the perspective of a trusted peer. They’re humble enough to know they don’t have all the answers (no one does).
Intelligent people like Katherine can become so focused on achievement for the company and themselves that they don’t spend enough time developing the communication skills it takes to lead and manage people.
More than ever, leaders need practical strategies for caring for themselves and their teams. Katherine’s self-development journey is well underway and gaining ground. She has admitted that once she began working on the discipline of leadership communication, it became rewarding to her teammates, the company, and her.
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