Communication. One word with dozens upon dozens of meanings, interpretations and definitions. What does it mean to you? To some, it simply means how they talk to those they lead. But true communication is far deeper than just how you speak to others.
Without great communication, our organizations suffer greatly. Systems break down. Talented individuals become uninspired and disconnected from the vision and the organization as a whole performs under its capacity.
With great communication, we empower those we lead. We enable them to go above and beyond, and our organization can grow and thrive like never before. It is possibly the most important ingredient of both effective leadership and the success of an organization.
In itself, communication is not complicated. Doing it well is something that definitely takes work but is not rare among leaders. Great communicators, however, are incredibly hard to come by. Those that can communicate with anyone and everyone at a high level are few and far between. These five pillars of communication are present in all great communicators. Which of these pillars do you need to develop?
PILLAR 1: BE ENGAGING
What’s the difference between speaking to a human being and speaking to a dog? If your communication doesn’t change between the two, you’re missing this pillar of communication. Instead of speaking at the individual, speak for them.
Speaking for someone is all about speaking with intentionality. Stop saying what you want to say and what you rehearsed saying and be open to where the individual is and what they need at that moment. Your rehearsed spiel on how others can grow won’t be one-size-fits-all. Tailor it to what the individual standing in front of you actually needs. Put yourself in their shoes and help them take the steps to success.
Another key element of this pillar is to effectively engage with the individual you’re communicating with. You can put yourself in their shoes all you want, but if they are not engaged, it won’t matter. Here are the three simple steps to ensuring everyone you’re communicating with is engaged:
Get their attention. You don’t have to scream to get someone’s attention. Sometimes asking important questions, bringing up potential outcomes and introducing yourself and your expertise is more than enough to get them on the hook.
Connect with them. The routine you practiced in the mirror won’t work for everyone. Take time to get to know everyone, what they stand for, what they’re passionate about and their dreams and adjust your communication to form a meaningful connection.
Be relevant to them. If you’re telling a room full of pastors about theoretical physics, they most likely will not care. Similarly, if you’re telling a room full of rocket scientists about best practices in ministry, they will tune you out. Although seemingly simple, ensure your message is relevant to the audience you’re speaking to!
Pillar 2: Be Authentic
People can smell inauthenticity a mile away. Before you put a mask on and try to be someone you’re not, slow down, have confidence in who you are and the value you bring and be yourself.
When you’re authentic, you build trust with the audience. Speaking about your mistakes and shortcomings will do more to engage with your audience than only speaking of your successes.
Don’t be afraid of getting into the failures that made you who you are and taught you valuable lessons. The stories of hiring the wrong person, when your leadership came up short, miscommunications and everything in between. These are the stories that will build real trust with those you’re communicating with and will get them fully engaged in what you have to say.
Also, effective communicators practice what they preach. If you’re advising an individual on the proper way of handling something in life or leadership, make sure this is the method you’re using. If you’re doing something other than what you’re preaching, your credibility will be tarnished, and moving forward, they won’t listen to anything you have to say.
Pillar 3: Be Relevant
This pillar is all about having something to say when you talk. We all know individuals that can ramble on and on but aren’t actually saying anything of value. They’re just talking to talk. They could easily communicate what they are saying in a fraction of the time, but instead, they go on and on and on…
This pillar requires you to invest in yourself. Whether it be reading new books, magazines or studies on leadership and organizational best practices, going to a professional coach, listening to podcasts or watching and taking notes on a masterclass in leadership, take time aside from your day to invest in your learning and your growth.
By taking time to work on yourself, you ensure you’ll be prepared to communicate something of value to whomever you might be communicating with. Whether they are a brand-new leader, a seasoned veteran leader, or a future leader, you’ll be able to speak on something relevant that will help them moving forward.
The key to implementing this pillar into your communication is preparation. Your confidence in communication will come long before you come face to face with an individual. By taking time to prepare, you ensure you will have something of relevance to communicate down the road. Content is king! Make sure you have a pool of content big enough to draw from in any situation.
Pillar 4: Communicate in Real Time
While seemingly obvious, this pillar trips many leaders up. Communication happens in real time! Sticking to a rigid script will not allow you to make the adjustments necessary to keep people on the hook and engaged in what you’re telling them.
A quote by the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, speaks to this pillar perfectly:
“When I’m getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one third of my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say, and two thirds thinking about him and what he is going to say.”
Do you communicate with what the other person may say, may think and how they may respond in the forefront of your mind? If you don’t, you may very likely be missing this important pillar of communication.
Being prepared is also a key element of this pillar. When you take the time to prepare, when the direction of the conversation changes or you’re thrown off by an unexpected question or response, you can adjust accordingly and quickly.
Pillar 5: Listen
The final pillar of communication is something the majority of individuals lack: the propensity to listen! Listening is not just waiting for the other person to finish before you say what you were already going to say. It is adjusting what you were going to say based on what they are saying. It is hearing the individual, understanding what they said and responding appropriately.
Listening is debatably the most important pillar of communication. If you are only able to apply one of these pillars to your communication, listening would be the most valuable. When you start to truly hear others when they communicate with you, your relationships will be completely transformed.
True listening is not natural for many. Here are seven simple things you can do to make listening to others a reality in your communication moving forward:
Communication is possible without all five of the pillars listed and explained above. However, to be a great communicator, you will need all five. With only four, you’ll be limiting your reach, you’ll be limiting those you lead and you’ll be limiting your team and your organization’s potential for greatness.
What kind of a leader will you be? Are you content with being an OK communicator? Do you want to communicate slightly better than you currently are? Or, do you want to put in the time and the work to become a great communicator that embodies all five of these pillars in their communication?
The choice is yours. You have the ingredients for becoming a great communicator at your disposal. What you do with them and whether you apply them is up to you.
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