ADVERTISERS USE sound bites to capture attention and promote interest. Recently our leaders both political and non-political adopted the use of clever snippets that might be witty but they are not clear. In fact, they often produce confusion, rather than dispel it. A catchy phrase may entertain, but it rarely enlightens. As we all know from misreading email messages, words have multiple meanings that obscure intentions and plans.
Every leader aspires to be a great communicator who gains acceptance, builds commitment and ensures stellar outcomes. To achieve this goal, however, leaders need to avoid seven derailing fallacies.
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- Communication and promotion are not the same. Promotion’s goal is to excite emotion in the short-term. Communications goal is to establish common ground and connect for the long-term.
- Information sharing is not communication. Communication ensures that the message both spoken and unspoken is understood, trusted, accepted and acted upon. Information consists of data which may or may not be accepted or utilized.
- Holding your cards close to the vest is great for poker but not for building trust and gaining committed to achieve desired goals. Withholding information produces bewilderment and leads to passivity. It may also indicate a lack of conviction and a need for confirmation before committing to a decision or action plan.
- Communication should be consistent and complete. It should not be tailored by staff level. Assuming that senior staff deserves and can handle full disclosure while frontline staff wants only a limited positive spin has been disproven time and again. This assumption, often referred to the “I’ll steer and you just pedal” philosophy, was discarded years ago when quality circles, process improvement and safety ideas illustrated that entry personnel can master complexity and ambiguity.
- Communication cannot gloss over errors or mistakes. Even the emperor with no clothes eventually admitted to reality. Deception, obfuscation, and omission reduce respect and create divisions. It only amplifies uncertainty. Owning up to what went wrong is the first step to making things right.
- Communication must not be mindboggling. It must be tested for clarity. Napoleon stationed a private outside his tent and asked the private to read his communiqués. If the private could not understand a portion, he rewrote it. Even an Emperor knew he needed clarity and uniform understanding of proposed plans to be successful.
- Repeating a message using different venues (large group and informal settings), formats (presentation and Q&A) and media (verbal, written and digital) improves not only understanding but also acceptance.[/message]
Will following these guidelines really pay-off? It has for many leaders. Organizations with highly effective communicators produce almost 50% higher returns to shareholders over a five year period. This improved results from reduced rework, key talent retention, less conflict, greater productivity and better resource utilization. Improve your communication effectiveness by retiring the sound bite and applying sound communication practices.