Leadership Communication: Listening to Understand, Speaking to Be Understood

Two men sitting together and having a conversation

We are communicating constantly, whether we know it or not. A deep sigh, a quick glance, even the way that our arms fold over our chests all send messages that let people know how we’re feeling, and what we’re thinking. As a leader, you have to be keenly aware of what you’re saying both with your words and with your body language. Teaching yourself good leadership communication skills can help avoid misunderstandings and misinterpretations, all the while opening the door for those you lead to become better communicators in the process. 

What does great leadership communication look like? We’ll touch on 4 key components that make up this essential skill.

Communication is a Two-Way Street

When we engage in any interpersonal behavior, we are opening ourselves up to both speaking and listening. Too often, when we have a dialogue, we are speaking with the intention to be heard, but not with the intention to also hear. Instead of trying to understand what the other person is saying, we get stuck in the loop of pre-crafting a response that may not be an appropriate response by the time the other person has finished talking. 

By practicing active listening, where you consciously make the effort to understand and process what the other person is saying before giving your response, you are helping your employees feel valued and heard. 

Watch Your Body Language

Have you ever walked into a room where you can feel a palpable tension, excitement, or disappointment, even when no one is speaking out loud? That’s because body language can be just as loud as an actual conversation in communicating a particular emotion. Furthermore, body language can actually override the message that you’re trying to convey. Sitting slumped at your desk while verbally asking your employees to get excited about a new opportunity is a confusing message, and one that your listeners may actually misunderstand. 

Be sure that you are communicating what you want with the way that you look. Smile confidently, control your facial expressions, and move in such a way that communicates both authority and openness. 

Show Empathy in Your Words and in Your Actions

According to Developmental Dimensions International, a global leadership consulting firm, empathy is ranked as the #1 most important leadership skill. Senior Vice President Richard S. Wellins notes, “Being able to listen and respond with empathy is overwhelmingly the one interaction skill that outshines all other skills.”

By simply acknowledging and relating to your employee’s feelings, you are inviting them to be more open, honest, and transparent with you. This is absolutely essential for both employee happiness and overall productivity. When someone comes to you with a problem or concern, avoid being dismissive at all costs. Let them know that you hear what they are saying, and offer a helping word when appropriate. Even something as simple as, “Let me know what I can do to help you solve this problem” can do wonders. 

Set the Tone and Hold People Accountable

One of the most difficult leadership communication skills is being able to control the way that people speak to each other. We all have our own quirks and proclivities when it comes to verbalizing, so asking someone to fall in line with a particular way of speaking has the potential to spark up negative feelings. Yet, whether it’s casual or formal, humorous or serious, it’s imperative that you set the tone for the way that your employees and yourself communicate with one another. 

This rule does not extend to things like accents, impediments, or the like. It’s more about creating a culture of expectation. If you want people to spring into the office poised to dig in to the day’s tasks, you must also be willing to do that. If you prefer a quiet start, start the day with soft music that communicates the idea. While it’s not okay to stifle people’s engagement and eagerness, it is okay to create an environment that encourages expression of those feelings in appropriate ways. 

Leadership Communication Skills Start with You!

As the leader of your group of peers, employees, or business, the onus is on you to create a work culture that effectively communicates the ideas, feelings, and grievances that naturally come with interpersonal relationships. Not sure where to start? Give Catalyst Group ECR a call. With our leadership training courses, we can help you learn to listen to understand, speak to be understood, and encourage those you lead to do the same. 

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