As an external coach and trainer, I’ve spent the past fifteen years or so supporting leaders to communicate more effectively. In doing this I’ve noticed common challenges that leaders face in consistently communicating well regardless of their industry, position, or the size of their teams.
I recently added to my own observations by getting input from leaders in the HR field. I figured they would have a first hand perspective of what behaviours lead to the perception of a leader being a ‘good communicator’ or ‘bad communicator’.
Here are some of the key communication challenges that I’ve come across over the years and that the HR leaders who I spoke to, tell me they witness on a regular basis.
My interest in neuroscience and the functioning of the brain naturally led to a connection of how leaders of all levels can deal with these challenges by taking care of their brains.
Results vs People
The main focus becomes achieving targets and the people working towards those targets are put in second place.
Organizations tend to focus on tasks and results rather than people and the communication required to inspire and support those people. Leaders are given targets and then told to work towards them. The main focus then becomes achieving targets and so the people working towards those targets are put in second place. They become dis-engaged and it costs everybody money. It’s not intentional, and most leaders don’t set out to put their people in second place, it just happens that way.
Every leader I speak to is stretched for time and not surprisingly the HR leaders I spoke with mentioned this too. Effective communication takes time. It takes time to prepare and time to deliver and there is really no way around that. Yet with so many leaders being stretched to the limits, time choices become crucial and communication often gets put aside. Poor communication decisions get made in an effort to save time and yet often do the opposite by creating further problems that then need time and effort to resolve.
With so many leaders being stretched to the limits, time choices become crucial and communication often gets put aside
Effective communication will likely save time in the long run by reducing tension and errors but it requires time to be put in up front and there is no getting around that.
The average leader speaks to numerous people in a day and will need to communicate in different ways with each of them. Communicating with one individual on your team who is not performing, is very different from delivering a message about plans for the future to your entire team, as it is different from outlining strategy and results to the board or upper management. These things all require a specific type of communication and specific types of thinking and planning on the part of the leader.
How these things show up in the life of one leader is going to be different from how they show up for another and unfortunately there are no one-size-fits-all magic solutions. On an individual level it’s hard to change any of those things. So if we can’t eliminate these challenges what can be done?
There are no one size fits all magic solutions to communications challenges
Brain Awareness and Care
An awareness of the challenges you are dealing with, as well as an awareness of how these challenges are impacting your brain, and as a result impacting you and your response to those challenges, are a step towards managing them.
The key is to care for yourself and your brain
Any of the three challenges I’ve spoken of can overload the brain and literally shut down the pre-frontal cortex or thinking part of the brain. As this happens the emotional brain becomes activated and leads to an emotional or habitual response to a situation. Both emotional and habitual responses are easier for the brain to deal with than thinking through the challenge and coming up with an appropriate response for the moment. The key is to care for yourself and your brain and prevent the automatic emotional or habitual responses that can damage morale, relationships and your image as a leader.
Three simple steps to communicating more effectively as a leader
While there are numerous techniques leaders can use to communicate effectively, I’d like to share 3 simple techniques you can use to care of your brain and put you at your best for communicating well. The brain is like any part of our body in that it needs to be taken care of in order to function well.
1. Do the hard stuff first:
In Your Brain At Work‘ author David Rock speaks about prioritizing and dealing with the hard stuff while your brain is fresh. If you have a particular challenging communication issue to deal with, do it while you have the energy to think about it clearly. Putting off that difficult conversation until the end of a long and challenging day is going to make it harder for your brain to deal with than if you have it at 9:00am when you are fresh.
If the challenge is finding the time to communicate in the way you want to, think about how to resolve the time challenge while you are fresh.
2. Do one thing at a time:
The brain is not capable of effectively doing more than one thing at a time. Sure, you may be able to check your email and drink coffee, but that’s because drinking coffee doesn’t require any conscious thought. As soon as you try to do more than one thing at a time that requires conscious thought, the brain will begin to get overwhelmed. The dangerous thing here is that we don’t always realize when we are reaching the point of overwhelm and continue to try to multi-task. The build up of this throughout a day will impact the ability to think and communicate effectively.
3. Take regular breaks:
Take regular breaks (even small ones) and give your brain a chance to re-charge. Stepping away from your desk, a person, a meeting, or whatever you are working on can allow you to activate your pre-frontal cortex, or thinking part of the brain rather than allowing the brain’s habitual or emotional responses kicking in.
Taking that one step further – an overall balanced lifestyle allows you to re-charge yourself and your brain regularly and help you communicate more effectively. I’ve often had clients tell me that they notice they have trouble communicating well when they are tired. This may sound like common sense, yet so often we forget to make these types of connections.
There can be no doubt that making conscious, well thought out decisions about how to best communicate within your organization, with the time you have available and to the particular people you are speaking to, will be easier if your brain is functioning well.
To read more about dealing with communications habits read my blog posts: The Key to Developing Better Communication Habits and Seven Steps to Kicking Career Destroying Communication Habits