Having a strong vision for your company is one thing. Being able to communicate it clearly is another ballgame. As a leader, your job can take on many roles from being in the trenches working alongside your teammates to excluding yourself and putting together top-line strategies for business growth or thinking about a tough decision.
No matter what roles you shift in and out of, being an effective communicator is one of your most essential skills. You'll need to inform, motivate and criticize your team members. The more clearly you can do this, the better shape you'll be in.
As a young entrepreneur, I shied away from giving constructive criticism or articulating my vision clearly. I was fearful of coming off too harsh or having the possibility others wouldn't align with my vision for the company. Those views were holding back my own growth and my company's growth.
I thought back to my time playing football in college. If I threw the ball to the wrong guy or missed an opportunity, my coaches would let me know on the spot so I wouldn't repeat the mistake. It wasn't because they were mad--it was because they wanted to win.
The same goes for business, if someone couldn't handle criticism, myself included, then we were never going to be able to adapt and compete at the level we wanted. And as for vision, it's better to know who's onboard and who disagrees with your vision sooner than later. You want to use that information to build a winning team.
Effective communication is important and it can ultimately make or break your business. Here are the five tricks that have helped me the most:
1. Don't over-complicate your words.
The effectiveness of your communication is not based on the extensiveness of your vocabulary. It's based on the level of understanding your team gets from what you say.
Stay away from using intense industry jargon or any word that is too complex. If you're putting together a piece of writing you can test its simplicity and readability through something called the Flesh-Kincaid test (you can find several places online to test your text).
2. Realize that timing is important.
On a Friday afternoon during the summer of 2014, I got a call from our biggest client at the time. They were going to be slashing budgets and effectively killing 30 percent of our revenue in the process.
As our team started to wind down the for the day and get ready for the weekend, I had two options:
- Tell them right there and turn their weekend upside down and full of worry.
- Wait until Monday morning.
I chose the latter.
Waiting until Monday did two things for me. First, it gave me time to internalize what had happened and come up with a plan for how to deliver the message on Monday and my plan to generate new business.
Second, it didn't put unnecessary stress on my team for two days. They wouldn't be able to do anything, anyway. Timing was everything.
Delivering the same message at different times can have wildly different results on your team's psyche. Before you make your next big announcement, think about how your team members will internalize what you're saying and if there's a better time to hear that message.
3. Give criticism that promotes positive self-talk and motivation.
Criticism shouldn't make your team members feel bad about their work, it should push them to get better at their work. When you go to give criticism look at ways to increase positive self-talk over self-doubt.
Try a simple change from, "You've been letting the team down, and need to do better," to "You know you've been falling behind a bit, I think you're better than that. How can we work to get your productivity up?" The first sentence feels like a threat, while the second feels like support. A supportive leader wins over the long run.
4. Don't wait to talk, listen instead.
This is arguably the most important skill any communicator, in any situation, can get better at. When in a discussion, don't jump to dominate the room with your thoughts--just sit back and listen. When you listen you learn, and when you learn you're able to put together more concrete ideas.
You don't need to act on everything your team members say, but you need to listen to everything said.
5. Communicate through your actions.
All is for not if you don't walk the talk. As a leader, your job is to be out front. If you talk about work quality and higher standards but don't hold yourself to them, you're ineffectively communicating. Your team will start to drown you out, and ultimately lose respect for you.
Lead through words--and by example.