Editor's note: "The First 90 Days" is a series about how to make 2016 a year of breakout growth for your business. Let us know how you're making the first 90 days count by joining the conversation on social media with the hashtag #Inc90Days.
The way you communicate as a leader is important. The right tone, the right voice, the right body language--these elements are as important as the words you say, sometimes more.
Having a leader who understands the principles of great communication can make the difference between a collaborative team and one that goes in circles.
If we can get our communication right, we can build strong teams, be persuasive with clients and generally accelerate our business.
Here are some principles to remember.
1. Customize your communication.
Consistency is important, but that doesn't mean you should speak the same way to everyone. Customize your messages in light of what you know about the listener. Some people like details, some like the big picture, and some people want to hear only about the bottom line. Pay attention to their cues and tailor your communication accordingly.
2. Actively listen.
Good listening is among the most important, and overlooked, principles of great communication. Don't zone out when someone else is speaking, and make sure that your own body language indicates your interest. Maintain eye contact and respond with small gestures that show you are listening and receiving the message. If you have any doubts about what you're hearing, try paraphrasing or repeating back what you have heard.
3. Let others finish.
If you're anxiously waiting for an opening so you can jump and speak, you are not really listening. Train yourself not to think about interrupting other speakers but instead to make sure they have had their say before you begin speaking.
4. Ask simple questions.
You learn the most when you keep your questions simple and open-ended. Why, what, when, where, and how are still the gold standard. If you ask the right questions you will always find the right answers.
5. Be polite.
Don't check your phone or look at your watch when someone else is speaking. Give the respect of your undivided attention.
6. Use the power of "I" statements.
Communication becomes more productive when you avoid stating your thoughts as facts. For example, instead of saying, "This project is a failure," you might say, "I am very concerned about the sustainability of this project." Try to avoid "you" statements ("You haven't done anything") that set up a cycle of judgment and defensiveness. Instead, say, "I can see there's still a lot to be done."
7. Pay attention to what your body's saying.
Some researchers find that body language makes up more than half of what you're communicating. Is your posture open and confident, or closed off?
8. Watch your tone.
Make sure your tone matches what you're saying if you want your message to be clear.
9. Avoid sarcasm.
It has a high failure rate--and even when it works, it mostly serves to build walls and destroy strong connections.
There are few things you can do that will benefit your leadership and organization more than working to improve your communication skills.
Make sure you and those on your team communicate clearly and with purpose, and your odds of success grow astronomically.