There are enough communications taboos to fill a book. For every positive communication action there are probably ten that are negative. So, the road is filled with potholes and pitfalls, some of them invisible until you hit them. In the last post on communication, discussion revolved around the WHAT, HOW, WHEN, WHERE and WHO. Danger abounds in each of those areas if the message is handled poorly. Leaders should always use their culture and their values as touchstones for communication (and everything else).
Ten of the most common issues (and everyone can certainly have their own “top ten” list) are:
- Believing that saying it means it is communicated. In fact, saying it doesn’t even mean that it is heard much less communicated. Saying it may mean the beginning of the communication process, but it also may mean a waste of good, breathable air.
- Assuming that everyone interprets your words the way you mean them to. Research shows that even commonly used words do not mean the same thing to everyone. Explanation, examples, even definitions should be used to make meaning crystal clear.
- Being wishy-washy. Many leaders avoid giving a definitive answer to a question or clear solution to a problem. This may occur because they do not know the answer, so they are buying time; or they may not want to show ignorance or inadequacy, so they tap dance. Or, they may not want to commit, so they can have deniability if things go bad. When you think about it- what does being elusive solve? It doesn’t get the organization closer to success. It doesn’t bolster the leader’s credibility. If anything, it has multiple negative effects.
- Communicating without thinking. Some leaders pride themselves on “shooting from the hip”, and this may be a style that works for some when it comes to decision making. But when it comes to communicating, the percentages are a lot lower. Remarks made without proper thought to the message being conveyed, who it is being conveyed to, and how it might be interpreted, can come back to haunt the deliverer.
- Communicating while overly emotional. Great news, horrible news, motivation- either positive or negative- all can be the catalyst for emotional communications. Whether verbal or in writing, or even in an interview with the press, emotional communications create a huge risk. Words that are not measured and calibrated and “on message” can be disastrous. Leaders should be able to show emotion, but should not allow their emotions to rule their communications. Leaders need to take a time out until emotions are in check before putting out important messages.
- Avoiding difficult conversations. These can be personal conversations or messages to a group of individuals. Giving tough news in an appropriate way and at an appropriate time speaks well of a leader. Running for cover, avoiding the tough stuff or failing to lead at difficult times does not.
- Clicking the SEND button too quickly. There are several versions of this one. First, refer to Number 5 above. Don’t send when overly emotional. Second, proof read. Make sure any message in writing is carefully crafted and says what it is intended to say, with adequate explanation. One missing or incorrect word can change the entire import of the message. Third, consider whether committing the words to writing, where they will be preserved in hard copy and/or on servers, is smart. Writings are most often interpreted against the drafter, so if there is ambiguity, there could be problems that a leader will have to address later. In the same vein, a leader must consider whether e-mail is the best medium for the message. In many cases, it is not, as e-mail negates 93% of the communication. And lastly, if an e-mail is to be used, make certain the address line contains only those for whom the message is intended. Clicking “reply all” or accidentally copying the entire office, can lead to major problems.
- Under-communicating. This can take several forms. One is the number of times an important message is communicated. If there is a change in vision, mission or values, that change cannot be communicated too much. Issuing one communication and expecting it to suffice is plain foolish. There used to be a saying in advertising that an ad had to be run eighteen times before it had an impact. It takes multiple times before people actually pay attention to it and after that a number of repetitions before the message sinks in. Corporate communications should be viewed the same way. Secondly, the quantity of information is critical. Leaving out key facts begs a lot of questions and leaves much open to individual interpretation. Think through the content of the message and don’t make it so skimpy that it is worthless. Thirdly, people need to feel as if there is a line of communication that is always open. That means that pipeline has to be filled on a regular basis so that people feel as if they are always in the loop.
- Not sharing how to communicate with you. Leaders set the tone in organizations. They model behavior. Their charges need to understand how to best communicate with the leader. Therefore, it is the leader’s responsibility to make it clear what information they like to receive, in what form, at what length, in what detail, at what time and in what medium. If the leader doesn’t communicate this, employees are left to guess, and they will often guess wrong, and nobody will be happy.
- Breaching confidentiality. Leaders get information from a lot of sources and they rarely track each data point by source. They often amass and then regurgitate information to others. If they do so without considering that some of it may have been given in confidentiality, they will negatively impact their credibility and trustworthiness and they may hurt others personally or professionally. Leaders need to think before they speak They do not need to show off the mountains of information at their command. They need to protect those who have trusted them.
Communication is so basic to success, that many take it for granted. In doing so, they make fundamental mistakes leading to business setbacks. The Communication and Feedback Loop is key to the 720thinking process. It helps address communication strategy and tactics that will make leaders more successful. Use strong communication to build your business.