CHANGE MATTERSIN MY OPINION, the single biggest determining factor in whether a change initiative is successful or not is communication. Communication across the leadership team, communication from leadership to managers and employees – and communication from people on the front lines back to management.

The challenge is that good communication is never a one-way street: It requires that everyone in the chain have good communication skills, from the most junior intern right up to the C-suite heavy-hitters.

You may not be able to change everyone in your organization, but you might be surprised to find that improving your own communication skills can have a positive effect on those around you. Here are some tips:

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Communication tips for everyone, no matter what their role in the organization:

  • Be respectful
  • Be a great listener (and acknowledge that you’re listening)
  • Remember that communication is two-way (listen and respond)
  • Speak so others can hear you (put it in terms your audience will understand and appreciate)

Tips for Recipients (individual contributors):

  • Ask questions to get the information you need
  • Communicate as positively with peers as with those above you
  • Speak so others can hear you (and pay attention to the channel they respond to best)
  • Listen so others will want to talk to you

Tips for Translators (supervisors/managers):

  • Listen – so your employees will talk to you
  • Take information from above and convey it clearly to those below you
  • Use positive communication to build teams (both the one you manage and the management team you’re part of)
  • Don’t overload your team – be concise, not overwhelming
  • Learn to ‘hear between the lines’
  • Understand company direction and help your staff understand it

Tips for Synthesizers (directors/vice-presidents):

  • Listen for clarity from above
  • Listen with compassion from below
  • Synthesize information into a ‘narrative’ or ‘story’ that helps you move your teams toward their goals
  • Use the right filter for what you’re hearing (understand the subtext)
  • Communicate so your boss will hear you (be strategic)
  • Communicate so employees will want to listen to you (be engaging)
  • Communicate to strengthen alliances with your peers (be a valued source of insight)[/message]

Sounds simple when it is presented bullet points, doesn’t it? But great communication really requires reflection and a conscious effort to understand the person (or people) to whom you’re communicating – it’s really about getting in the habit of making that effort on a day-to-day basis. This ideally starts when you are young in your career so that it becomes a habit and a skill that you build on as you and your career mature. But no matter where you start, these skills and habits aren’t hard to learn – they just require your attention.

Often when I speak about this topic I get a question from the audience about critical mass – meaning isn’t it useless to do this as an individual when what we really is need is a critical mass of leadership doing it? My answer is always the same. Didn’t Lao Tzu say ‘the journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step’? The same goes for this kind of change. It starts with one person taking a single step, then another will join and then another. And before you know it you will have a critical mass. It is that simple. And of course, that complex.


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Dr. Jennifer Beaman

Well said Beth and wonderful article! In further support, effective communication takes concerted effort. It’s something we all must consciously work on. Furthermore, active listening is an art that many people struggle with (or ignore it’s actual value). It’s amazing what we can learn… when we take the time to genuinely listen :)