- Watch your language. You may use metaphors to offer something your audience can relate to -- a common thought or feeling. But many leaders rely on battle metaphors or violent, divisive language such as "Let's conduct guerrilla warfare," or "obliterate the competition." These metaphors reinforce win-lose, self-interested behavior rather than collaboration. Even many sports metaphors have becomeempty clichés. Opt for clear, positive language and straightforward sincerity to foster shared understanding and earn the support of your group.
- Follow through. Failure to follow through on rhetoricaccounts for no small amount of the cynicism and weariness seen in today's workplace. If you make a promise, follow through with action, even if the action ends up being an explanation of why the promise can't be enacted. Also, don't contradict your rhetoric by, for example, talking about great customer service while treating fellow colleagues arrogantly or rudely.
- Deal with uncertainty. Don't be afraid to talk about failure, midcourse adjustments, or "bugs" that the organization must work through. Create the expectation that these will be a normal part of organizational life. You'll be telling the truth. Throughout a transition, clearly communicate the context of what it means and why decisions were made (goals, reasons, participants, estimated effects, costs, etc.).
- Be an active listener. Good listening is an art too few people have mastered. Concentrate on the speaker's message, and resist distractions. Keep an open mind to others' ideas. Don't tune out if you disagree. Indicate you understand what the speaker said by reframing key points: "Let me be sure I understand correctly. You're saying?"
- Manage conflict. Identify and involve major stakeholders. Hold one-on-one or very small group discussions early to vent anger. Make sure that everyone knows in advance why meetings are called. Set ground rules that create an "attack-free," safe haven for dialogue. Use nonjudgmental, noninflammatory language like "I perceive?" or "It seems to me?" Reiterate that personal attacks and blame aren't constructive. Identify and reiterate common ground or common goals; focus on areas of agreement. Don't force a resolution; it's OK to agree to disagree.
- Respond, don't "re-act." We often "re-act" to others based on something that happened to us before. Responding mindfully rather than re-acting emotionally requires self-knowledge and discipline, but it allows us to be more effective in our communication. As a leader, you're a role model - you set the tone for what's appropriate in the organization. Reflect on your hot buttons, and identify a "keep calm" strategy for when they get pushed.
- Give feedback. Many of us soften feedback - at the expense of clarity - to avoid confrontation. Provide specific examples that illustrate your critique. For example, instead of "Your attitude is bad" or "That just didn't work," say, "When you miss deadlines, then cross your arms and look away when I talk with you, it gives me the impression you don't care about the quality of your work. Can you help me understand this differently?" Don't forget positive feedback; studies show that a high percentage of employees rarely receive positive feedbackfrom their manager.
- Invite participation. Hold meetings that include employees from different areas, and encourage everyone to contribute. Ask employees to send you e-mail regarding their ideas for doing things more effectively, and respond to all queries. Have a "graffiti wall" where employees and leaders can exchange concerns and ideas. This will provide the group with different perspectives of the issues discussed and help ensure the top-down/bottom-up information flow.
- Keep your team up-to-date. Let employees know how their efforts compare to their performance goals and how they are supporting the total picture. Be honest; communicate bad news as well as good news.
- Connect personally with employees. Since someemployees may not have frequent contact with you, create opportunities to do so. Sincere face-to-face interaction is key; it gives more weight to telephone, e-mail, or print communications between meetings.
- Take advantage of communication resources. Studies show that the most successful entrepreneurs and leaders know their limitations and seek outside counsel and resources.
This information provides food for thought rather than counsel specifically designed to meet the needs of your organization or situation. Please use it mindfully. The most effective communication plan should be tailored to your unique needs, so don't hesitate to get individualized assistance from a communication expert.
Jamie Walters is the founder and Chief Vision & Strategy Officer at Ivy Sea, Inc. in San Francisco, CA. Coauthor Sarah Fenson is Ivy Sea's Guide to Client Services.