Technology gets a lot of the blame for the continued degradation of communication skills among leaders over the past two decades. But I suggest that technology, like any tool, can be used in positive or negative ways.
What really matters is how we choose to communicate and how we choose to use our tools. They work well for:
Setting up meetings
They do not work well:
When we need to have a dialogue and a conversation
When we copy the world to cover our bases or boost our egos
When there is emotion involved
A recent Development Dimensions International (DDI) study, “Driving Workplace Performance through High-Quality Conversations: What leaders must do every day to be effective,” reminds us that leaders, peers and direct reports need to hold more effective conversations to get more effective business performance.
Since communication norms are deeply woven into the tapestry of every organization’s culture, this challenge starts with the CEO and involves all his or her leaders. The DDI study validates how important emotional intelligence competencies, particularly self-awareness and social skills, are in human interactions.
Everything we do happens through our relationships — at work and outside of work. When communication is poor or stops, the relationship is poor or stops. In the DDI study, the authors point out that senior leaders have not mastered these communication skills any better than less senior leaders, even though they have been at it longer.
Take a few moments over the next several days to see if you notice any of these poor interaction habits in leaders you know, including yourself:
Jumping to task before understanding the full picture — One solution: Take the time to gather information and listen carefully.
Unskilled at, or choosing not to have, effective conversations — One solution: Learn this skill or get out of leadership.
Failing to engage others in decisions that impact them — One solution: Ask yourself, “Who is impacted by this decision?” and engage them early in the process.
Failing to demonstrate authentic empathy — One solution: Slow down and truly put yourself in another person’s shoes. What might it be like to be them right now? Don’t know? Ask them.
Ego and personal agenda driven — One solution: Ask yourself, “Do I really need to be or prove I am right? Or do I want my team to succeed no matter whose idea it is?”
Unable to facilitate a productive meeting or discussion — One solution: Learn these skills and/or engage skilled facilitators to help you.
The systemic solution to improving interaction and communication skills in your organization is to make it matter. It’s quite simple to do. What you reward is what you will get. What you don’t reward is what you will get much less often.
Leaders generally know what a good conversation looks like. Knowing is the easy part. Doing is the hard part. The leader’s No. 1 responsibility is to create and nurture the desired culture to get the desired results, and those choices and priorities will roll downhill. This is particularly true for the behaviors we model to our direct reports — all the way from the C-suite to the front line. At the end of the day, when we are not truly listening, we are not leading. Period.