Rules of Communication

I’m a big believer that most of the issues that arise in the workplace amount to communication issues—or rather, miscommunication issues.

An employee misunderstands directions. Another employee hears a deadline wrong. A manager’s body language doesn’t match their tone. The list goes on and on.

As a leader, the ability to communicate your vision is crucial to success. Honestly, in many ways, communication defines leadership. If a leader is commanding orders or expecting employees to mind read, is that really leadership? I’ve come up with four rules of communication for leaders to implement to help them lead high-performing teams and overcome poor communication skills.


The Power of Nonverbals

Nonverbal communication is everything from posture, facial expressions, and gestures to tone, volume, and inflection. With that in mind, I advise leaders that communication is 10 percent what you say and 90 percent how you say it. 

Research agrees. A study conducted by UCLA professor Dr. Albert Mehrabian found that only 7 percent of all communication occurs through words alone. Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Communication Model attributes 38 percent of communication to verbal cues such as tone of voice, and the speaker’s body language and facial expressions, hand gestures, and other body movements account for a whopping 55 percent of communication.

Think about that. If your words only account for 7 percent of what you’re saying, “how you say it” makes up 93 percent of the message! Bringing awareness and intention to your nonverbal communication is essential because it determines how well you can wield your influence as a leader.


Active Listening

The second rule of communication can be summarized with one of my favorite quotes: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This quote comes from Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and it’s all about listening. 

When you seek to be understood, it usually means your jaws are flapping and you’re rambling to get your point across using any means possible. It’s easy to get swept up in the desire to be understood, but it leads to nearly immediate breakdowns in communication. If you are focused on what YOU want to say, you are not really listening, you’re NOT focused on what OTHERS are saying.

Seeking to understand, on the other hand, involves effective listening. When you employ active listening as a leader, you develop a deep and authentic understanding of the needs and perspectives of your team members. Active listening makes you a better leader because you’re better able to connect with your team. It’s easier to motivate your team and encourage their passions when you’ve established an atmosphere of mutual trust and understanding.


The Art of a Thoughtful Response

With active listening comes thoughtful responding. Although much of today’s communication takes place instantly, you don’t always have to respond immediately. Rather, take time to absorb the message and craft a meaningful response that not only shares your perspective but reinforces that you’ve understood the other person. 

There’s a quote from psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl that conveys the power of a thoughtful response: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Whoa! 

The quote appears in Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, and, make no mistake, it’s deep. When applied to effective communication, this quote is a reminder to listen, pause, and analyze the message (the stimulus) before you start yammering away. You may say something you’ll regret if you don’t allow a space between stimulus and response. That space sets you free by fostering pure connection and understanding. And that’s a beautiful thing.


Less Is More

My final communication rule is recognizing when to be brief. In a leadership role, it’s easy to feel the need to fill the silence or chime in on all issues. You’re the leader after all. Responsible leaders, however, recognize when to speak and when to remain silent. 

In my executive coaching, I advise leaders against using a thousand words to say what could be said in a hundred words. Brevity can be a powerful communication tool in itself. Effective communication is more about what you say than how much you say. Think quality over quantity.


Communication Matters

Leadership demands you develop your communication skills. If you can’t articulate your expectations, provide constructive feedback, or motivate people, you’re going to struggle as a leader.


Questions to Consider

  1. Do you speak more than you listen in meetings?

  2. Do you think about what you’re going to say before saying it?

  3. Do you pay attention to body language?

  4. Do you communicate differently at home than you do at work?

I’d love to help you develop your communication skills as a leader. Contact me to learn more about leadership advising, coaching services, and additional resources.