Communication is the foundation of any great relationship. This includes communication between a leader and their employees. A leader’s job is to motivate and encourage their team toward achieving a collective mission. Without inspiring, empathetic, and clear communication, the connection required to effectively work together cannot exist. As presidential speechwriter James Humes once said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” In addition to this, a lack of communication skills costs businesses a tremendous amount of money every year. Research published by SHRM in “The Cost of Poor Communications” found large-scale companies with over 100,000 employees cited an average loss of $62.4 million loss per year due to communication problems.
Since effective communication is one of the top leadership qualities required to guide a team, it’s important to understand how to effectively convey messages to others. Increasing communication skills elevates your influence, develops strong followers, maximizes retention, and unifies people toward achieving the CEO or leader’s vision. Nevertheless, mastering the art of communication doesn’t happen overnight. It takes dedication, hard work, and the desire to truly listen to and understand others. However, those willing to take on the challenge of learning how to be a great communicator will see their relationships in business and life thrive and become stronger than ever before.
To get started, check out more on what communication is, its benefits, five tips for becoming a better communicator, and how to implement these techniques.
What is Communication?
Communication is how people share messages and information. This can be done verbally, nonverbally, visually, or through writing. While many people might be great with words, communication isn’t just about what you say. It includes other factors like tone and body language. For decades, many believed that only 7 percent of communication was verbal due to research conducted by Dr. Albert Mehrabian. While scientists now refute “the 7 percent rule,” it is still recognized that much of communication extends beyond words. For example, Dr. Ray Birdwhistle found humans can make and recognize over 250,000 different facial expressions. Nonverbal signals convey additional layers of communication beyond words.
Top Benefits of Effective Communication
Lack of communication negatively impacts relationships and workplace dynamics. When messages are given or received in a way that does not create connection and understanding, possibilities for misunderstandings, resentment, and disengagement increase. This can lead to lower retention and productivity rates, while absenteeism and disengagement skyrocket. However, when leaders work to improve their communication skills, they can anticipate a wide range of positive outcomes such as:
- Lowering frequency of work conflicts.
- Building stronger team bonds.
- Ensuring different departments work seamlessly together.
- Teaching employees how to effectively communicate with others.
- Making team members feel like they play an important role in serving a defined purpose.
- Experiencing a boost in productivity since expectations are clearly defined and set.
- Seeing an increase in accountability and ownership of work.
- Leading through change without instigating upset, stress, and work anxiety.
- Creating an environment where giving and receiving feedback helps facilitate team growth.
- Improving decisions and choices by valuing team members’ thoughts, ideas, and concerns.
- Developing a team culture where respect for one another is highly valued and expected by all.
Learning and Implementing the Top 5 Communication Skills
With all these benefits, it’s easy to see why improving one’s communication skills is an important aspect of growing a team and business. Nevertheless, knowing where to get started might not feel so simple. One of the best ways to begin increasing communication and fostering a connection between yourself and your employees is to develop the top communication skills listed below.
Think about the strongest relationships in your life. These are likely where you experience real conversations. Instead of talking at one another, you actually listen to each other, asking questions and making suggestions based on what you share. These friends, family members, or colleagues can make us feel seen and heard. Because of this, they’re the first people we call upon when sharing big news, seeking advice, or discussing a problem that needs to be solved. We value these people because they listen to understand. This is why listening is key. Without it, trust can’t exist, and without trust, a relationship can’t grow.
So how does a person get better at listening? Here are a few pointers:
- When someone speaks, repeat back what you’re hearing. Best-selling author Steven Covey describes this as “empathetic listening” which is “Reflecting what a person feels and says in your own words to their satisfaction so they feel listened to and understood.”
- If you’re not clear on what a person means or you need more insight into their perspective, ask before assuming you understand what was said. For example, you can say: “Can you talk a little more about ______?” “What do you mean exactly when you say _____?” “I’d love to learn more about why you think ______ is a bad idea.”
- Create a safe environment for listening. When discussing problems, never use shaming phrases such as “Why would you do something like that?!” or “Wow, you just keep dropping the ball, don’t you?” Instead, provide judgment-free feedback designed to help the person succeed rather than question their competence and abilities.
- Ask the other person how you can best support them during the conversation. Understanding how you are needed will help you position yourself in a way that produces the most effective outcome. Consider the purpose you’re serving in the discussion. Are you there to be a mentor or does this person just need an empathetic ear?
2. Nonverbal Communication
As mentioned above, words can take on an entirely different meaning when nonverbal cues are factored in. These include tone of voice, hand motions, eye contact, facial expressions, body positioning, and posture. When nonverbal signs are factored into a person’s words, they have the power to enforce importance, express passion, and convey confidence (or lack thereof). At its core, non-verbal communication influences the type of messages being sent.
Those on the receiving end of communication can also respond nonverbally while a message is being delivered. For example, if a CEO asks their executive team if they’re excited about some of the company’s new changes and a team member shifts in their seat, raises their eyebrows, and moves their eyes downward, this is a nonverbal “no.” Awareness of nonverbal language is an effective tool for gauging the temperature in the room and getting curious about why someone feels the way they do. This increases understanding which results in better outcomes.
To enhance your nonverbal communication skills when speaking:
- Think about your tone of voice. For instance, if you want to drive a point home, deepen your voice and use a serious tone. When inspiring team members, speak with more uplifting, energetic confidence.
- Use your body to convey your message. This might look like using your hands as a scale when talking about growth or leaning into the end of a powerful sentence.
- Express yourself with your eyes. Cosmetics entrepreneur Huda Kattan describes eye contact as one of the best ways to communicate and connect. She explains to US, “The eyes are so telling. That’s how you engage with people and bond with them. I love direct, strong eye contact.”
- Watch for others’ nonverbal communication. Notice when it changes and adapt to it as you speak. For example, say you’re closing a deal and you notice the other person cross their arms and lean back. More than likely, this means they aren’t receiving a message well or are having second thoughts. By shifting strategies and asking them how they’re feeling, you can listen to their concerns and reaffirm their decision.
Messages can’t come across clearly when a person isn’t direct. Rambling, skirting around tough conversations, or failing to establish clear expectations or boundaries results in a message being lost in translation. Miscommunicating in this manner often leads to consequences like workplace conflict, unresolved problems within teams, frustration, and stress. On the contrary, speaking with directiveness and precision leaves little room for mishaps. The clearer a core message is, the more likely it is to be powerful and poignant. In the words of classic author Francois de La Rochefoucauld, “True eloquence consists of saying all that should be said, and that only.”
When speaking more directly:
- Develop a key message people can take away from the discussion. Think of this as a thesis statement that guides the conversation.
- Create a list of things you need to discuss. For example, if you’re delegating a new responsibility to an employee, write down everything they need to know to successfully take on this job. Don’t leave the conversation until you’ve walked them through these points.
- Make sure your words are consistent and in line with one another. Skipping around in conversation only confuses your audience.
- Pause to ensure the person listening to you understands what you’re saying. Check-in by saying things like, “Does that make sense?” or “Do you have any questions?”
- Avoid talking too quickly and rushing through a conversation. Allow enough time and space to say what needs to be said.
- Provide constructive feedback that focuses on building up a person’s strengths while also showing them how to improve. Too much criticism without praise and recognition can make a team member feel undervalued.
- Ensure the end of the conversation includes action items. This technique helps employees get started on what was discussed immediately.
4. Emotional Intelligence
If communication is what bonds people together, emotional intelligence is the Gorilla Glue that makes sure the seal doesn’t break. The truth is, even the greatest communicators make mistakes. Emotional intelligence (EI) limits the frequency of conflict and hurt feelings. As explained by neuroscientist Dr. Robert K. Cooper, EI “is the ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions as a source of human energy, information, connection, and influence.” By practicing the four quadrants of emotional intelligence (self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship management) leaders can establish secure relationships and prevent them from breaking down over time.
To increase your emotional intelligence:
- Be aware of and manage your emotions, especially when speaking to others. For example, maybe you’re feeling pressed for time so you take your stress out on another person. When your emotions are out of alignment with how you want to communicate and treat people, give yourself some breathing room. This might look like asking for a 24-hour break to let heated emotions pass before walking back into a problem-solving meeting. It could also mean taking a short break to work out, take a walk, meditate, or other relaxing activities.
- Consider how your thoughts, words, and actions affect others’ emotional well-being and life.
- Get curious during times of conflict. Instead of criticizing someone for their opinions or beliefs, ask questions that provide more insight into their unique perspective. Look for the places you do agree then make those the focal points of your conversation.
- Be intentional about how you want to affect the lives of those on your team. Leadership requires a concerted effort. Becoming a servant leader who prioritizes others’ needs over your own is one of the most effective ways to positively influence your team and help develop them as communicators and leaders, too.
When it comes to communication skills, speaking, acting, and thinking with integrity dictate positive influence and the effectiveness of a conversation. As Zig Ziglar once said, “It is true that integrity alone won’t make you a leader, but without integrity, you will never be one.” In essence, integrity is how people build their character and guide themselves ethically and morally through a core set of values. When you act with integrity, others grow to trust, respect and admire you. Without this, a leader can never develop followers who will passionately work toward accomplishing their vision. Leading with integrity is also especially important when communicating difficult messages such as constructive criticism or letting an employee go.
To lead with integrity when communicating:
- Determine what top three values are most important to you. For example, say as a CEO your two core values in life are honesty and accountability. These would be the basic principles that determine how you lead.
- Create three more values that determine what kind of team culture you’re growing. These can intersect with your personal values.
- Write these down as affirmations. This might look like “I will communicate with empathy” or “Above all, our team members lead with servant hearts.”
- Use these as guidelines for how you treat others and how you want to see your team treat one another.
- When you break one of your own leadership rules, take ownership.
- Additionally, hold people accountable anytime they break the company’s top values. Encourage team members to do the same for each other.
- Ensure all conversations and interactions make team members feel valued and cared for.
Don’t Hesitate to Develop Your Communication Skills
Whether it’s Abraham Lincoln or Steve Jobs, true leaders use their communication skills to engage, inspire, motivate others, and achieve their mission. Speaking to people’s innate desires, understanding their problems, painting a vision for the future, and providing a clear plan for making these dreams a reality will grow a leaders’ influence. In turn, this strengthens followers’ hunger to work toward accomplishing the goal.
A leader without great communication skills is like a well without water during a drought. Since it doesn’t serve a purpose anymore, people stop going to it. Instead, they find another water source because their survival depends on it. Missions aren’t easy to achieve—your people require guidance, support, encouragement, and connection. Without effective communication and the action to back it, team members will stop coming to you and start searching for a new leader to follow.
To start dedicating more time to becoming an even greater communicator, choose one of these communication skills and study it for an entire month. Start by reading leadership books, listening to business podcasts, watching videos from leaders like Simon Sinek, John C. Maxwell, or Michael Hyatt, or attending online courses and webinars. Before long, you’ll notice the impact of your effort as your relationships begin experiencing more growth and strength.