How Leaders can Communicate Better with Teammates

We often say leadership is solving problems and dealing with people. One of the best ways to accomplish both are with effective communication skills. Whether you’re leading a team, managing a project, or striving for personal growth, mastering the art of communication can make a significant difference in your ability to inspire, motivate, and foster collaboration. In this blog post, we will delve into the importance of effective communication in leadership and explore valuable strategies to enhance your communication skills for greater impact.

Effective communication in professional environments relies on clear, concise instructions, active listening, empathy and emotional intelligence, tailoring communication styles, non-verbal communication, and transparency. Improving in all of these areas will provide exponential returns in your ability to communicate effectively.

We will take a look at each, but first one of my favorite communication demonstrations.

A Fun Communication Experiment

Let’s observe the following sentence: “I never said she was lying.” This sentence means 6 different things depending on which word you emphasize. Try it yourself, say it out loud emphasizing each word differently and you will see what I mean.

Which word you’re emphasizingWhat you are actually communicating
I never said she was lying.”“…but someone else did.”
“I never said she was lying.”“I am emphatic that I did not say that.”
“I never said she was lying.”“…but I certainly implied it.”
“I never said she was lying.”“… but I said someone was.”
“I never said she was lying.”“… but it certainly seems that way.”
“I never said she was lying.“… she’s wrong, but it’s possible she’s just an idiot.”

By the way, the above is precisely why you should never have serious arguments, discussions, or try to solve complex problems over text. You can write it with one tone in mind, and people can read it with a different tone. Non-verbal cues, body language, and tone are all lost over text and people fill in the gaps where it’s missing.

So, one sentence with six different means depending on which word you emphasize. Yikes. I hope that simple illustration shows why just because you said something does not necessarily mean people “heard” it.

The Power of Clarity

Clarity is key to effective communication. As a leader, expressing your ideas, goals, and expectations in a clear and concise manner ensures that your message is understood by everyone on your team. Avoid jargon, rambling speeches, and unnecessary complexity, as these can lead to confusion and misunderstandings. When addressing teammates, superiors, or your downline plan what you are going to say. I am the ADHD king. So I have a tendency to meander when I talk to eventually get around to the point. In my business I try my best not to do that. If I have to address my team, I plan out what I’m going to say and stick to it!

Active Listening

Listening is an equally vital aspect of effective communication. See above where I mentioned I’m severe ADHD. I had to learn active listening as an unmedicated adult. And it is a skill you can practice, sharpen, and hone. As a leader, practice active listening by giving your full attention to team members when they share their thoughts or concerns. By truly hearing and validating their perspectives, you build trust and foster a culture of open communication, where team members feel valued and supported. And definitely don’t do the thing where you wait for them to finish so you can tell them how they’re wrong. Ask clarifying questions, and drill into their thoughts. Understanding where they are cognitively is really one of the only ways

Empathy and Emotional Intelligence

Both of these qualities are amazingly important, and in fact we devoted an entire article to why we feel emotional intelligence is the single best quality for a leader to possess. You cannot communicate effectively with anyone if they feel you don’t care about them. Embrace empathy and emotional intelligence as foundational pillars of your communication strategy. Understanding and acknowledging the emotions of your team members can help you navigate difficult conversations and create a supportive environment. Show genuine concern for their well-being and be approachable when addressing their needs and concerns.

Story Time

One of the first clients I landed as an IT consultant was a business who was in a bad way. The owner called me frantic because his whole system was down. Myself and a technician drove to their site and sure enough their whole system was hosed. They had inventory, payroll, time management, email, order tracking, cameras, and I mean everything else tied to a server that was more than 20 years old, and probably had not been updated since Bush was president. That server finally decided to give up the ghost and Microsoft had not made software to support this server for more than 10 years. It was bad.

This business owner was panicking. He was trying not to outwardly show it, but he was freaking out. He constantly sat glued to what we were doing nervously tapping his foot 100 times a minute. He could not sit still. He was sweating. He kept making suggestions about what he thought the problem might be.

At one point, when the owner said, “Hey wait… could this be the problem?” My technician looked at him and said, “what? That doesn’t even make any sense.” Then he returned to working on the problem. The business owner shut up. We finally did get him situated and got his business running again. I told my technician later, “man, he wasn’t asking if X was the problem. He was really asking, can you save my business? Is everything going to be ok?”

When you have a good degree of emotional intelligence, you are freed to look for the question behind the question. EI really helps boost your active listening skills. Because now you’re not just tuned in on their words, you’re dialed in to what they are really saying and asking.

Tailoring Communication Styles

Adaptability is a hallmark of exceptional leaders. Recognize that different team members may (and probably do) have varied communication styles, and adjusting your approach accordingly can lead to more productive interactions. Some may prefer face-to-face conversations, while others may feel more comfortable with written communication. Some people prefer to be talked to directly, while others want to exchange pleasantries and make small talk before moving on to business. I’m happy to accommodate both, but it takes recognizing what these individuals need. Tailoring your style to match individual preferences will enhance engagement and understanding.

One of my teammates is a straight shooter. She prefers facts and straight talk. Another teammate is a guy who really values relationships. So here is how conversations usually go with them.

Straight-shooting Sarah:
Me: Hey, Sarah that email you sent me yesterday, I’m not sure that’s a good idea.
Sarah: Why?
Me: Because ABC
Sarah: Oh, I see what you mean but that’s not a problem because XYZ.
Me: Ah ok. That makes sense. Thanks have a good one.
Sarah: Yeah, you too let me know if I can help with anything else.

Here’s how I have to have that same conversation with Kevin (names changed to protect the innocent).

Chat-me-up Kevin:
Me: Hey, Kev. Sup dude, have a good weekend?
Kevin: Yeah man, saw the new Barbie movie, caught a new series on Netflix, pretty good weekend!
Me: Oh, right on, which show did you pick up?
Kevin: Oh, it was Umbrella Academy. Yeah, I enjoyed you seen it?
Me: Yeah, I binged like the whole first season in one night during covid, and I agree super enjoyed it. Hey did you know, the creator of Umbrella Academy is the lead singer for “My Chemical Romance?”
Kevin: The “Black Parade” band?
Me: Yes, exactly!
Kevin: That’s crazy, I did not know that!
Me: Yeah wild. Anyways I’m glad you had a great weekend. Wanted to touch base about that email you sent. It’s totally possible I’m missing something, but it doesn’t seem like what you’re suggesting is going to work. Again, maybe I’m misunderstanding but doesn’t ABC prevent that?

Anyways you can see how I have to approach Kevin with a different communication style. I will take an extra minute or two talking to him, because if I don’t Kevin will be distraught the rest of the day that I did not ask him how he was doing. He will wonder if I’m upset with him about something, and he will be unproductive!

Non-Verbal Communication

As demonstrated above in the communication experiment, communication goes beyond words; non-verbal cues also play a significant role. A head nod here, a well-timed eyebrow raise there, a sly smirk placed after a comment. All of these gestures signal subtle things. In fact, it’s a fairly well-established belief that between 70% and 90% of all communication is non-verbal. So be aware of your body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice, as these elements can convey a wealth of information to your team. A confident and approachable demeanor fosters trust and encourages open dialogue.

Transparency and Authenticity

Transparent and authentic communication establishes credibility and fosters a sense of unity within your team. Be open about the organization’s goals, challenges, and decisions. Honesty and authenticity create an environment where team members are more likely to share their thoughts and ideas, leading to greater innovation and problem-solving. Additionally, teammates are also far more likely to bring up problems, risks, and potential hazards in an environment of transparency and authenticity.

I hope we have… communicated with you the importance of good communication. If you read that last sentence with a dad joke tone in mind, that’s what we mean about getting communication beyond more than just words. And if you didn’t get the dad joke tone, well, that’s because tone is lost over text. Definitely not because we are unfunny.

Erik Murrah

Author, nerd, chess player, artist, business owner, runner, mediocre philosopher, outdoorsman. Creator of the Arise Tribe.

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