As you look into improving your communication skills as a manager heading into 2017, take these proven leadership concepts for a spin.

1. Be mindful of using negative metaphors and clichés.

Some leaders sprinkle violent metaphorical language in their business-speak to make it appear like they're in the trenches of warfare behind enemy lines. But not everyone within their sphere of influence can relate to abrasive language like "Let's utterly destroy the competition." These divisive metaphors reinforce win-lose, ego and self-interest over collaboration, unity, and fun. Choosing sincere and positive language will ultimately earn the respect of the entire team.

2. Follow through on promises.

Failure to be your word may lead to your people questioning your integrity and distrusting you. So follow through on your promises with a clear plan of action that can be easily articulated. Even if you can't pull it off, explain why something cannot be enacted. The fact that you can honestly and openly communicate both good and bad news goes a long way.

3. Don't be afraid to talk about failure.

When something happens that disrupts your business offerings, a sudden change in direction takes place that affects workers, or major fires need to be put out, paint a positive and realistic picture of business life to keep your people steady, rather than a doomsday scenario that triggers panic and uncertainty. Don't keep these things secret or exclusive to upper management. Companies with leaders who "sweep things under the rug" will eventually be exposed as not trustworthy. The flip side is transparent and truth-telling leaders who will explain the context of who, what, where, when, and why in their decision-making. Such leaders will win hearts and minds of loyal employees.

4. Practice active listening skills.

This is a business practice that, when mastered to its full potential, can change the very nature of how people perform. By keeping an open mind to others people's ideas, encouraging healthy conflict and disagreement, and listening to other people's needs tells the listener that you value them and their opinions.

5. Set team agreements.

One of the best ways to ax drama and cut down on conflict so your team is performing at a high level is to set clear team working agreements. For example, a team agreement might be something like "We all agree to participate fully." It works because it's based on team accountability. If one member of the team isn't pulling his or her weight, the others will notice and should call that member on it.

6. Respond instead of react.

We often react when triggered by negative events in the past that cause us to get defensive or act out in fear. Once we get a handle on the root cause of our negative reactions, we can respond with confidence and self-control. By modeling appropriate and effective communication, you set the example for others to follow as a cultural trait. Remember, when triggered to react, reflect on what's pushing your buttons (the root cause), and choose a "keep calm" approach as you process your emotions for a more tactful response.

7. Give feedback.

So often we sugarcoat negative feedback to avoid potential conflict, pushback or disapproval. Very human of us! If you have to give negative feedback on performance or a specific behavior, back it up with detailed examples and ask questions for further clarification. For example, instead of "Your attitude in the meeting was disrespectful and unacceptable and I expect things to improve or changes will have to be made," ask "When you interrupted John during his presentation to criticize the budget, it was uncharacteristic and you appeared angry, which made everyone uncomfortable. Can you help me understand what led to that reaction?" On the flip side, studies say employees don't get enough positive feedback from their managers. Let them know regularly how they're doing with performance goals and how their work is supporting larger organizational goals. This gives their work meaning and higher purpose.

Published on: Dec 16, 2016
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