No one can argue the fact that our industries, our communities and our nation are going through unprecedented changes. We can easily say we are experiencing severe turbulence and effectively communicating with customers, employees and stakeholders have never been more challenging. For those of us who are able to do it well will be able to project a vision for the future and map out a practical path forward. The ability to do this successfully is rooted in the difference between leading and managing.
During periods of rapid change, our ability to adapt (and in many cases to make necessary and long overdue changes) to a situation and respond will be tested. As noted in several of my previous reflections, are the times when a leader’s ability to communicate will make the difference between success and failure, regardless of whether they are in the C-suite or on the front line of their organizations. Fostering positive and thoughtful communication, and the ability to project a vision for the future, that creates understanding is a leadership imperative during ambiguous and turbulent times.
Effective communication is more than just a buzzword. It’s a powerful tool that impacts employee engagement, collaboration, company culture and customer relationships (and yes, I am speaking from experience). Unfortunately, according to Entrepreneur Media, one survey found that “91 percent of 1,000 employees stated their leaders lack the ability to communicate well, which can be traced back to “a lack of emotional intelligence in how business leaders and managers” interact with their employees.”
This begs the obvious question; how do we ensure our communication resonates with our teams during such times? Admittedly, I do not have the answers, but I have been doing a tremendous amount of reading and research on the topic in the last several weeks. In a recent article I read on Entrepreneur Media, I learned of three strategies to keep in mind regardless of whether we are writing, standing up in front of employees in a town hall meeting or having an honest conversation with someone on the front lines of your business. I will be quoting directly from the article.
1. Repeat your message more than you think you should
When leaders communicate to the organization and their teams, they often believe the job is done once that communication is delivered. But not laboring under this misconception is especially important. Total, effective communication has only really occurred when the person receiving the message has internalized it, not just heard it.
In order to ensure this, the messages need to be repeated several times, and preferably in multiple formats — email, video, phone calls or at all company meetings — as there may be an emotional response to the information delivered. As one study conducted by Kate Sikerbol of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada found, “Allowing employees to share stories and feelings helped them to develop a greater sense of control over the changes, improved morale, reduced absenteeism and built trust between managers and employees.”
2. Seek feedback
Once the initial communication has been delivered, the next challenge is to ensure that the message was understood as intended. In order to confirm this, leaders must seek feedback from their listeners. Feedback is the mechanism for determining what was heard, what was understood, what actions are happening as a result and the degree of acceptance the message has received. This allows you to move on knowing that the issue has been dealt with.
3. Control what is repeated
There are often instances when we know that something we say is going to be repeated. This is particularly when your point of view is asked for by a member of the organization in times of uncertainty, as your answer is likely going to be repeated to others.
Frequently, circumstances occur when your comments or response provide the basis for subsequent direction, discussion or action. Consequently, it is important to be able to influence how others interpret and pass along what you said after they walk away from the conversation. There are four specific things you can do to that end:
- Be proactive. Say what you think is important. It may not be the specific answer to the specific question, but it does ensure that what is repeated is what you wanted communicated.
- Keep it short. People can’t remember everything you said, and they will select what they think is important and repeat only that, so provide your answers in brief sound bites.
- Avoid using negatives. Many psychological studies have proven that people tend to remember negatives far better than positives. While there is a time and place to use negative examples or verbiage, in turbulent times this can detrimentally impact your ability to communicate with a trepidatious listener.
- Make it interesting. Add interest to the conversation yourself so the listener does not distort or embellish the message to make it more interesting. You can do this by adding in an analogy, story or illustration to really bring it to life.
Without a doubt, it can be difficult to find the “right words” to say, which can lead to us saying nothing or little to nothing to our teams. You may never find those perfect words, but we must say something. This is the job of company leaders. Therefore, intentionally focus on our communication activities so that we can effectively shape opinions, influence behavior and guide outcomes when the time comes, thereby providing the leadership clients, associates and stakeholders are looking for in times of uncertainty.
While I know I have a great deal more to learn, I am sharing this out of direct and recent experience. These last (almost four) months have challenged me, my leadership and emotional intelligence. I have a tremendous amount of gratitude to the Cornell University Leadership Program, The California Agricultural Leadership Program and The Salinas Valley Leadership Program for providing me not only the tools but the emotional awareness to navigate these challenging times. I must also say, I am grateful to one of my employees Fran Murillo who has challenged everyone at TMD to learn more about cultural and social injustices and for nurturing the conversation within my company.
As always, I am open to feedback, comments, discussion on this topic as well as things I could improve to make these reflections more meaningful for you.