During times of rapid change, our ability to adapt to a situation and respond will be tested. These are the times when a leader’s ability to communicate will make the difference between success and failure, regardless of whether they are in the C-suite or on the front line. Those who communicate well will be able to project a vision for the future, map out a practical path forward and create an understanding of the implications — all of which are imperative during ambiguous and turbulent times.
Therefore, strong communication is more than just a combination of buzzwords. It’s a powerful tool that impacts employee engagement, collaboration, company culture and customer relationships (for better or for worse). Unfortunately, one survey found that 91 per cent of 1,000 employees stated their leaders lack the ability to communicate well, which can be traced back to “a lack of emotional intelligence in how business leaders and managers” interact with their employees.
So, how do you ensure your communication resonates with your organization during such times? Here are three strategies to bear in mind regardless of whether you are writing an email to a colleague, standing up in front of hundreds of employees in a town hall meeting or having an honest conversation with someone in the trenches.
1. Repeat your message more than you think you should
When leaders communicate to the organization and their teams, they often believe the job is done once that communication is delivered. But not labouring under this misconception is especially important. Total, effective communication has only really occurred when the person receiving the message has internalized it, not just heard it.
In order to ensure this, the messages need to be repeated several times, and preferably in multiple formats — email, video, phone calls or at all company meetings — as there may be an emotional response to the information delivered. As one study conducted by Kate Sikerbol of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canda found, “Allowing employees to share stories and feelings helped them to develop a greater sense of control over the changes, improved morale, reduced absenteeism and built trust between managers and employees.”
2. Seek feedback
Once the initial communication has been delivered, the next challenge is to ensure that the message was understood as intended. In order to confirm this, leaders must seek feedback from their listeners. Feedback is the mechanism for determining what was heard, what was understood, what actions are happening as a result and the degree of acceptance the message has received. This allows you to move on knowing that the issue has been dealt with.
3. Control what is repeated
There are often instances when we know that something we say is going to be repeated. This is particularly when your point of view is asked for by a member of the organization in times of uncertainty, as your answer is likely going to be repeated to others.
Frequently, circumstances occur when your comments or response provide the basis for subsequent direction, discussion or action. Consequently, it is important to be able to influence how others interpret and pass along what you said after they walk away from the conversation. There are four specific things you can do to that end:
- Be proactive. Say what you think is important. It may not be the specific answer to the specific question, but it does ensure that what is repeated is what you wanted communicated.
- Keep it short. People can’t remember everything you said, and they will select what they think is important and repeat only that, so provide your answers in brief sound bites.
- Avoid using negatives. Many psychological studies have proven that people tend to remember negatives far better than positives. While there is a time and place to use negative examples or verbiage, in turbulent times this can detrimentally impact your ability to communicate with a trepidatious listener.
- Make it interesting. Add interest to the conversation yourself so the listener does not distort or embellish the message to make it more interesting. You can do this by adding in an analogy, story or illustration to really bring it to life.
It can be difficult to find the “right words” to say, which can lead to leaders saying nothing or little to nothing to their employees. You may never find those perfect words, but you must say something. This is the job of company leaders. Therefore, intentionally focus on your communication activities so that you can effectively shape opinions, influence behaviour and guide outcomes when the time comes, thereby providing the leadership people are looking for especially in times of uncertainty.