Effective Communication

Words Speak Louder Than Actions

actions words

You’ve got a bold vision. You’ve hired smart people. So why do you, and your team, seem uninspired to reach the heights you’ve imagined?

It might be how you are communicating.

How you talk to your team has a big impact on how well you can lead them. Most leaders spend a lot of time crafting a vision and detailed plans for execution. But they fail to communicate effectively and consistently–that is, in a way that is really heard by people. Kristi Hedges, a leadership consultant and author of The Power of Presence, refers to this as having your message “received.”

She offers four suggestions to improve the messages you are sending by building trust, being authentic, and being bold.

Increasing Rewards and Minimizing Threats. Because people are innately afraid of change, you have to make them feel safe. “You’ll have the best reception if you consider the universal triggers that cause defensive reactions in others: threats to status, certainty, autonomy and fairness,” says Hedges. Try to reassure people in all those areas, letting them know their jobs are secure, how decisions are made, and clear expectations for their roles.

Declarations. Many workplaces have devolved into cover-your-butt memos, a dozen people copied on emails so everyone seems accountable, and similar survival strategies. In an insecure economy and corporate culture, many managers use hedging as a their communication strategy. If you are using words such as, “if,” “might,” and “maybe,” as a means of being less accountable, you’re undermining your authority. If you want to inspire others, make clear, confident declarations. Says Hedges: “Instead of ‘If everything goes our way, we can hit our quarterly number,’ say, ‘We will hit our number this quarter.’”

Stories. The brain likes stories, so good leaders find ways to bring stories into their communications. “Stories help people know and understand your values—and that increases trust.” They help convey information, but what they reveal about who you are and how you think also makes a leader seem more authentic. “You are most authentic when you are telling a story,” says Hedges. Stories shouldn’t ramble or have no clear purpose. Make your stories brief, include common points of reference or emotion, and show obstacles and results.

Daring. Don’t be afraid of being interesting. You want to be someone who catches people’s interest, after all. Playing it safe or communicating in vague general statements just makes you dull. “As a leader, you are often in the spotlight, so it benefits everyone if you learn to play on a bigger stage.” A little shock value, an aspirational vision, an unusual stance on an issue help you stand out as an inspiring leader.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.