Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tongue Tied And Twisted: Common Communication Mistakes Leaders Make

Good leaders are great communicators who build trust consistently over time. A leader with poor leadership communication will find leading far more challenging than a great communicator. Respect and confidence on the part of staff, executive teams, members or a board will be much harder to earn.

But even good leaders can blow it with one stupid comment, a slip of the tongue or a poor performance in a media interview.

The following common communication mistakes damage leaders trust accounts quicker than you can say pickle relish. Reflect on when you may have been guilty of these communication sins:

1. Meaning what you say this is probably the worst communication error that you can make as a leader. Authenticity is a key to long term leadership success and if you go all polyester with people they will read through it in a flash. Reading a script that you, or someone else prepared, without thinking about what you are saying is a sure fire blooper. Reading in the script that you have been reflecting on a certain topic or issue without pausing to reflect while describing the scenario, or share a personal anecdote about what it brought up for you, could kill your credibility. Staying in the moment - being truly present - and thinking about what you are saying is critical to maintaining credibility and the attention of your audience. People can tell when you are reading and they can certainly tell when a presentation is mindless and not heartfelt.

2. Underestimating your audience never assume you know more than your audience or understand their individual situation. Making sweeping statements such as I know exactly how you feel, or "what you need to understand is...," or "it was outside our control," can alienate people and make them feel as though you are talking down to them. Most audiences will hear this as you not listening, or not really understanding their situation. The same response often follows statements like This is just what you need. Even if the statement is true it probably won't works in today's society of sceptics. You can let yourself down in an instant if you fail to take your audience seriously.

3. Using waffle words using empty nothingness words that lack specificity whether it be the details, direction or meaning, can be a sure path to disaster. This common mistake can make you appear to either not know your content, be all hot air and no substance or worse to appear like many people say politicians do, dodging the real issues using smoke and mirrors and saying a whole lot of nothing. When leaders fail to communicate with specificity, and use waffle words, people can feel left in the dark or like they are being set up to fail. This can cause uncertainty, distrust and resentment. Communicating clearly, in plain, unambiguous language with specificity will build trust and provide people all the information they need to be successful.

4. Wooden delivery - body language communicates vast amounts of meaning, more than the actual words you are speaking. As a leader you must be conscious at all times of the signals you are broadcasting. There is nothing more damaging than you sending out body signals that are at odds with the message you wish to communicate or that convey nothing at all. Since people will make our decisions primarily on what they see rather than what they hear it is critical that you understand the meanings of your postures, gestures and facial expressions. Taking the time to master leadership communication skills such as direct eye contact will go a long way to establishing credibility, connection and building rapport.

5. Lack of connection on an emotional level - thinking that professional means impersonal is a mistake leaders often make. People form opinions and make decisions based on their emotions first before they rationalise them intellectually, an inability to relate can potentially damage your reputation and business. Being real about how you feel personally about something however will allow people to connect with you on a deeper level. Communication played a key role in the success of the President Barack Obama. Described as the 'Communicator in Chief', he connected with and inspired millions of Americans during his Presidential campaign. His performance as an orator and use of body language and conversational natural communication style enabled him to connect deeply with people.

6. Care factor zero another big trust buster leader's use is inadvertently demonstrating a care factor of zero. A recent bank campaign ran the insensitive theme We live in your world, during a time when many people were struggling with growing home mortgages, small business loans and credit cards. Similarly in a communiqu to frequent flyer members of an Aussie airline, announcing the reintroduction of flights after they had been grounded following an engine explosion, the CEO used primarily self focused language all about I and us (the company) and nothing about you the reader. Review many corporate websites with two coloured highlighter pens, one colour for language about the company, one for language about the reader, and see where the emphasis and focus wrongly lies.

When you look back on your conversations and communication style what kind of impression have you been leaving? If you are not thoughtful about your conversations and communication you could be getting yourself tongue tied and twisted and end up wreaking havoc on your leadership reputation.

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