Five Communication Hurdles to Leadership Effectiveness and Influence

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” ~Warren Bennis~

Client Ethan asked:
A lot of misunderstandings and hurt feelings are cropping up in my organization. Crucial information often doesn’t get shared; people often feel their voices aren’t heard. As an aspiring leader, I know I need to find ways to fix the situation. What should I do?

Coach Joel answers:
Ethan, these issues all come down to improving your communication skills. Taking initiative to address them is one of the most important things you can do to prove your leadership abilities. Building your influence and leading your organization to success means improving your organizational culture by overcoming these hurdles.

  1. Communication channels are undefined.
    When it’s not clear whom people should talk to about particular types of issues, communication is likely to break down. Your workplace needs to have well-defined channels of communication for handling projects, and managers need to set the tone for communicating well. Each person needs to know which coworker to talk with about a particular issue. Additionally, you need a clear path of communication between departments, meaning communication roles must be clear. One member of your team might be in charge of liaising with the art director regarding a package design, for instance. A clear path of communication is important for handling complaints, too. Employees need to know whom to speak with, and that person needs to know what to do with the information.
  2. Silos keep information from reaching all stakeholders.
    Similarly, with poor communication, information can get stuck in silos. It might just be that departments need help understanding how to communicate better, but there are often deeper underlying issues. It’s not just that people don’t know how to communicate—it’s that they’re not motivated to communicate. Departments may have even come to view one another as competitors because they’ve lost sight of their common goal. Inspiring people to believe in a common vision is the first step toward correcting the problem, and it’s one of the most important ways of demonstrating leadership and getting noticed. Holding collaborative meetings with people from various departments will help people stay motivated to work toward their common goal.
  3. Communication flows only in a top-down path.
    When communication flows only from the top down, employees can feel frustrated, knowing they have a great deal of input that isn’t being used. You might not have control over how higher-up executives handle communication, but you can voice your feedback about it if you have an ally who might be receptive. Furthermore, you can work to encourage the people you supervise to share feedback and suggestions with you. An idea box is a great way to encourage people to speak up when they see something that could be improved. As you grow your influence, your leadership effectiveness will become apparent to other managers and executives, and they might emulate your approach.
  4. Views are unrepresented.
    When holding meetings, ask yourself if you should include particular individuals from other areas of the organization who might have a stake in the topic. For instance, if another department might have valuable input about the project your team is discussing, ask a representative to join in or share input by email. Making people feel heard is just as important as gaining their valuable input. You’ll be building stronger relationships by taking these steps.
  5. Unclear terminology leads to lack of understanding.
    When people use jargon frequently, others might not understand their meaning—or they might think they understand, but get it wrong. It’s important to ask clarifying questions when people use technical terms or ambiguous language. One department might have an internal understanding of a slang term it uses, while another department might get a different impression of the meaning. Likewise, if people use convoluted language, paraphrase what they said and verify that you understand what they meant. It’s much better to spend a moment clarifying than spending hours or days trying to repair the damage of a huge misunderstanding. As a leader, look out for the moments when team members might misinterpret something, and clarify the issue even when you believe you understand it correctly.

As you improve communication in the workplace, your team will see its productivity rise, in part because their job satisfaction will increase. Be sure to voice appreciation for employees’ efforts to strengthen communication. This will keep them motivated to continue making a conscious effort to improve. Your leadership and influence will grow along with the effectiveness of your team.

Are communication hurdles compromising your team’s performance, order Joel’s book Difficult Conversations for the entire team. If a conflict needs specific support, contact him for executive coaching.

Talkback:
Have you worked to overcome these types of communication challenges? What worked, and what didn’t? Share your experiences here.

Dealing with dissenters in the workforce—6 Ways to Encourage Dissent

“May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”
~Dwight D. Eisenhower~

At a team meeting, Valerie pitched a marketing strategy she’d been thinking about for a while. A fellow team member vocally outlined a number of holes in the plan, leaving Valerie feeling shaken. She’d believed this was the best idea she’d ever brought to the table.

“Dealing with dissenters in the workplace can be scary,” a colleague told her later over coffee. “It forces you to get outside of your comfort zone and hear criticism about your ideas, your performance, or group dynamics that might sting at first.” Often it’s hard to hear because it’s expressed with a tone of anger or frustration, her colleague acknowledged. He then added, “But dissent is actually a gift—it points out gaps that need to be filled, weaknesses that need to be strengthened. When you’re open to hearing dissent, you’ll continually improve your best ideas. Plus, open communication is key to building trust in the workplace.”

How to encourage dissent at work:

  • Ask for critiques. Soliciting criticism is the only way to make your people feel comfortable voicing it. Don’t assume they feel comfortable stating it just because you respond well to it. Ask for it assertively; show real enthusiasm for hearing it, rather than making weak statements like, “Feel free to voice any criticism you might have.” Explain why dissent is so important to your organization to show you’re committed to hearing and using it. Trusting your people to provide input will make your whole team shine.
  • Ask follow-up questions. To really listen to what your dissenters have to say, prompt people to explain their rationale for their dissenting opinions. If in a group discussion, ask others what they think about the dissenting opinion. Dig deep into the issue, igniting conversation that helps people more fully understand how they feel about the issue. That way, the dissent won’t just be taken at face value, and one person won’t shift the direction of the plan without everyone’s input. Dissent in the workforce needs to be explored, validated, and utilized by the group to be effective.
  • Make sure the comments are directed to the people who need to hear them. Communicating dissent is only empowering if the people voicing it know it will be heard by someone with the ability to use their feedback. Make sure people know who will hear their comments. For example, tell your team about your upcoming meeting with high-level executives and assure them you’ll share their feedback there, if appropriate. Then follow through, and share the results with your team.
  • Ask for solutions. Challenge dissenters to present possible solutions, even far-fetched ones. When people start thinking creatively, solutions that higher-ups never imagined might take shape. However, people should feel free to voice dissent regardless of whether they’ve thought of a solution yet or not.
  • Rework the plan together. If critiques go to only one person who reformulates the plan singlehandedly, you’ll just see different problems arise. The plan needs to be reworked by a group who can see it from different vantage points and talk through concerns that arise in the moment.
  • Express gratitude for the dissent. When you share genuine gratitude in the workplace with someone for having the courage to voice their dissent, you’ll encourage more constructive dissent in the future. Thank the person in front of the group to send the message to everyone.

Dealing with dissenters in your workplace will grow easier as voicing dissent becomes an accepted part of the culture. When it’s welcomed rather than feared, people will start to present it in a more positive way rather than feeling they have to be aggressive about it or stay silent. As people put it into practice, they’ll hone their ideas into stronger plans of action. Additionally, hearing and working with dissent is an important way of becoming a strong communicator, which is key to career advancement. Valerie and her team worked to address the issues raised at the meeting, and together they created a plan that was stronger than any of them could have created on their own.

Contact Joel for executive coaching so he can provide support on empowering your employees to speak up and take risks at work.

Talkback:
Do you encourage dissent in your workplace, or do you avoid it? Looking back, can you see any missed opportunities to grow from dissent? Share your stories here.

Six Smart Strategies for Communicating with High-Level Executives

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” ~James Humes~

Mei had just scheduled a one-on-one meeting with an upper-level executive in her company. She didn’t get much face time with high-level executives, so when communicating with them, she knew she had to make it count. She understood that talking with senior executives was a great strategy for boosting her visibility at work. She immediately called her mentor and asked for advice. Her mentor walked her through these six essential strategies for making the most of the meeting.

  • Get to the point. Make your point clear at the start, rather than slowly meandering toward it. By letting the exec know exactly why you’re sitting down together, you’ll make the most of her time. Don’t be long-winded—keep your words short and sweet. Mentally rehearse what you’ll say beforehand, and write notes if that helps you, to keep yourself on point as you present your ideas. Presenting your ideas eloquently, and showing how they align with the big picture, will impress the exec. Plus, you’ll leave time in the conversation for dialogue.
  • Ask questions to gain clarity about what the executive needs to hear. This will allow you to customize your message to what the leader needs to know. For instance, ask if he’s familiar with a project before launching into a description of it, so you’re not telling him things he already knows. At the beginning of your session, ask if he has particular concerns or interests that you could speak to. If he really wants to hear about project X, and you spend fifteen minutes talking about project Z, you might not have impressed him as much as you hoped.
  • Listen to what the executive is and isn’t saying. When communicating with high-level executives, you’ll get feedback not only from what they say, but from what they don’t say. If the executive hasn’t commented on what you see as the most exciting part of your plan, try to discern her feelings about it. If you sense hesitation about an idea, ask how she feels about it, so you’ll have the opportunity to provide additional data or other information to back you up.
  • Be natural. Your voice and body language should radiate confidence, but don’t act like you’re on a stage. Execs will see right through that. If you look like you’re performing, they’ll try to figure out what’s amiss. Be optimistic but honest about areas that need improvement.
  • Let the executive know how to support you. Make the executive feel like an ongoing part of your team by letting him know how he can support you. You might need support in bringing your ideas to higher-level executives. Asking for help, and voicing your needs clearly, shows you’re serious about bringing your plan to fruition.
  • Make a follow-up plan. The exec will feel like an ongoing part of your project if you have a plan for how you’ll check in about it. Set a follow-up meeting a month out, or say that you’ll email him once you reach a particular milestone to talk about the next steps.

By using these strategies, Mei came across as professional and competent to the executive—just the kind of person this leader wants to work with in the future. Plus, her mentor noted, communicating well with executives in high-level positions could open up new opportunities for her in the organization. The executive might even become an advocate for her in the future if they continue developing a strong working relationship.

Contact Joel for executive coaching so you can immediately begin to communicate with higher-level executives and build your executive presence.

Talkback:
Have you had the chance to speak with high-level executives in your organization? Did you use any of these strategies? Share your experiences here.

Break these Five Bad Social Media Habits at Work

“Like all technology, social media is neutral but is best put to work in the service of building a better world.” ~ Simon Mainwaring ~

Ellen Asks: One of my friends told me the boss watched how much time we spent on social media. I don’t want to get in trouble. How can I tell if I have bad social media habits at work?

Joel Answers: Social Media can keep us connected, speed communication, and increase productivity. But it can also be a distraction and a time waster. If you suspect you might be misusing social media, check out these six potential problems.

If you don’t eliminate these problems, you might get fired… or at least reduce your chances for a promotion.

  1. Wasting Time on Social Media. Do you check tweets, Facebook, and other social media multiple times at work? If you’re not sure, try the old rubber band trick. Put a rubber band loosely around your wrist. Every time you check non-work related media, snap the rubber band. Sore wrist? Chances are you’re overdoing the viewing.

    Instead of focusing on what interests you, consider the value you are offering the company. Limit Facebook to breaks, lunch, or other non-work time.
  2. Sending the Wrong Message. Be very careful of inappropriate post or tweets. There have been news reports of people fired for off-color or socially insensitive posts. Things are never private on social media. Tweets criticizing former or current employers— or even clients, or coworkers— have a way of turning up in the wrong hands.

    Instead, look for positive things to say about workers or employers. Save the negative for private conversations.
  3. Betraying Your Brand. You’ve worked hard to create a professional brand at work. But poor behavior on social media can damage your image. If you lash out, flame, or attack with meanness other points of view, it can come back to haunt you. Take care how you address politics or politically correct topics to be sure they are not offensive to others.

    Instead, consider the brand you want to present. The authentic you will behave in a way that reflects your brand at work, at home, and on social media.
  4. Inappropriate pictures. There are many kinds of good photos you can post to social media. Inappropriate pictures will, again, tarnish your professional image. Avoid photos that are suggestive or portray you in a questionable light. Avoid posting pictures of your fun trip— the trip you took when your boss thought you were home sick. Instead, use images to create the perception you want others to have of you.
  5. Dishonesty. Be very careful of misrepresenting yourself and your qualifications on social media. It’s a bad habit to suggest you have credentials or job experience you do not have. Instead, review your profiles and posts to reflect your best you. Work to improve yourself so you can accurately show accolades.

You asked a great question, Ellen. Taking care of your social media presentation and the time you spend there can have a significant impact on your work. Use it to strengthen your brand and showcase your abilities instead of it being a distraction. Then you can turn social media into a good work habit.

Need pointers on how to increase your visibility and strengthen you image? Contact Joel for executive coaching.

Talkback:
How have you overcome bad social media habits at work?

Five ways to change negative perceptions at work

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
~ C.G. Jung ~

Cassidy had overheard some snide comments. She knew people were making snap judgements, based on gossip, about her that just weren’t true. How could she change negative work perceptions and get her co-workers to think more positively about her?

She knew she was a good team player and worked hard for the company. What did she need to do to help others see her in this light? In her mind, she reviewed the negative comments.

  1. No backbone. Hadn’t she stood up for the idea in the meeting? But the person who said that wasn’t at the meeting. He had seen her agreeing with the boss on several other positions.

    Cassidy thought of herself as a team player. She collaborated well with others. She decided she would be more visible in both the collaboration and the support she gave others. In her written communications— that would certainly go to her critic— she would be clear with her reasoning both when she agreed and when she disagreed on a topic.
  2. Doesn’t speak up or share. Cassidy recognized that she often was the quiet one at meetings. As an introvert, sometimes it took time to think about an idea. She didn’t want to speak until she’d considered all the angles. By that time, others had already said what she planned to say.

    Again, Cassidy felt her written communications could help change that negative perception. She also decided she could go to meetings better prepared. She could consider possible ideas and processes and come up with opinions she could share to generate the discussion.
  3. Dominates the meetings. On the other hand, Cassidy thought Jerold talked way too much. She didn’t get room to share her ideas. As she considered, she realized those negative feelings weren’t 100% true. Jerold thought he had great ideas… and he did.

    But she would have a better perception of him if he would pause longer and give others a chance to add their voice. Or better yet, if they had a system of going around the table and letting each person add to the discussion.
  4. Doesn’t really add value to the company. That one hurt! Negative perceptions like that could push her out of her job. Cassidy though of herself as modest. She didn’t go around bragging all the time.

    However, she realized she needed to be more open about what she was accomplishing. It was important she let her boss and her co-workers know exactly what she was working on, the effort she was putting into it and the results she was producing.
  5. Narrow perspective. Cassidy had been with the company long enough to know how they wanted things done. Maybe it did look like she didn’t think outside the box. But to her it made sense to stay focused on what had worked successfully in the past.

    Cassidy decided to be more open to looking at other ideas. She could be open to reviewing their merits and see how they meshed with the companies goals.

Cassidy worked hard to change the negative perceptions she’d heard in the office. She was pleased to hear more recently some very positive comments about her work and presence in the company.

If you want to change your perception in your workspace, connect with Joel for his career advancement coaching. He has a proven method for success.

Talkback:
Have you had to deal with negative comments or perceptions? How did you handle it?