Getting Better at Leadership Communication

How many times have you heard the expression, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you say it.”?  The truth is, it’s both.

Asking good questions, listening, and giving feedback are the basic ingredients of leader communication – but those steps are only part of good communication.  Research done by UCLA found that gestures count for 56%, tone of voice makes up 28% while words account for 7% of the impact a speaker has on an audience.  Regardless of whether you are giving a speech or delivering feedback, the importance of how you say things cannot be underestimated.

How can leaders become better at communication, with an awareness for how they are coming across? With a focus on what better, Body language, Eye contact, Thinking, Tone, Energy, and being Real (BETTER), looks and sounds like.

Body language – What is your body language communicating and is it consistent with your emotions and your words?  When you are giving feedback, are you tensing up and leaning away indicating discomfort and distance?  Or can you take a deep breath, relax, and lean in as you provide your thoughts conveying confidence and caring while delivering a sensitive message?  What about the way your move your hands?  Are you gesturing for emphasis or is the movement being perceived as angry and aggressive?  If you can tune in to your body language and make even the slightest of adjustments, you can begin to create stronger consistency between your words and your physical presence.

Eye contact– When you communicate, are you making eye contact or looking away from the person across from you?  And if you do look away, can you appropriately bring your gaze back gently to demonstrate interest?  In virtual discussions, are you using your camera to connect with your employee or having an honest conversation to understand if “cameras on” is the best way to engage with that person.  Eye contact signals attention and enhances focus.  It’s a way to convey empathy and trust.  Eye contact is a way to improve understanding between two people which increases the likelihood that, with any communication, your message will get across.

Thinking/mindset – Are you bringing the right attitude or mindset to the communication?  If you want to have a productive feedback conversation, are you approaching that discussion with a growth mindset?  With positive intent?  Our attitude mutually reinforces how we feel and behave.  As you head into an important meeting, a one-on-one, or an impromptu chat, take a moment to check in and become aware of your mindset.  How might you need to adjust your internal attunement to show up the way you intend?

Tone – Tone can be a highly subjective element of communication (ask anyone who has ever raised a teenager) but 28% of communication is impacted by this element!  Have you ever watched an inspiring Ted Talk?  Or the opposite – sat throughout a monotonous webinar where the speaker seemed to drag on for days?  It’s likely one big difference between those two communications was the tone of speaker.  Flat and monotonous will fail to demonstrate enthusiasm while rapid-fire and shrill may convey anxiety.  Since it can be hard to assess our own vocalization, this is an area where feedback from a trusted advisor can help leaders understand how they are coming across to others and what aspects of their tone (and cadence) they may want to adjust.

Energy – A good communicator is able to match the energy of the individual with whom they are communicating or use the tools at their disposal to shift the energy.  How might you feel if you are excited about a new idea or an opportunity only to have your manager or teammate tell you why it wasn’t possible?  Even if their argument was logical and delivered with the kindest of words, their energy might have deflated you.  Being aware of the energy you bring to your communication isn’t about mimicking others, but about being mindful of the way you send messages with the pace of your response – your thoughtful listening and empathetic response.

Real (authentic) – Finally, the last part of better communication is a reminder to be real – to be authentic.  Being intentional about your body language, eye contact, tone, thoughts, or energy doesn’t mean you need to show up in a contrived way.  Forcing any of these elements will come across as fake and erode the confidence and trust that others have in you.  Alignment with what you are saying and how you are saying it is a crucial way of conveying authenticity.

Better communication means tuning into how you come across to others and asking yourself if you are showing up the way you want to.  How can your words match the other aspects of communication, so your communication has the impact you intend?  Communication is the biggest reason leaders succeed and, when it doesn’t go well, the biggest reason they stumble.  You may not always get it right but paying attention to both process and nuance can help you get better.