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How Leaders Build Trust through Communication

How Leaders Build Trust through Communication

"Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiasm to others. If a leader can't get a message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message doesn't even matter.  
                        — Gilbert Amelio, President and CEO of National Semiconductor Corp.
 "I told everyone how we should proceed on this project, but they didn't listen to me."

In my work with leaders and their teams, I have heard similar statements more than once. Leaders sometimes find themselves mired in misunderstanding because communication breaks down. When that happens, they become angry and frustrated. Individuals in their groups and organizations do not know why.

When communication breaks down, trust is lost and productivity inevitably suffers.

It is easy for a leader to believe that others did not listen or that they ignored an expectation or directive. However, when the leader considers his own communication, he sometimes concludes that he did not get the message across as he hoped to do.

Organizations may spend millions of dollars on marketing campaigns. They consider their audience, their message and the media they will use to present that message. However, they often neglect important communication skills within the organization. Leaders may agonize over how to deliver a big presentation and forget that effective communication includes day-to-day interaction with customers and people in the organization.

We tend to minimize the impact of daily communication, but the little verbal and non-verbal messages over time have significant impact on relationships. These relationships are the glue that holds an organization together. The breakdown of everyday offers and requests affect how individuals work together.

Effective communicators thinks about the message. They consider the listener's preferred learning/listening style. Some people learn and understand best by hearing; some must read or see a model or representation. In addition, most understand best by practicing or doing. For those who respond to the written word, email is fine. For those who understand best by hearing, they need face/to-face or phone conversation. Others need to see specific models or graphic representation of what a leader expects. An effective leader considers multiple means of communication for important messages. They do not rely only on their own preferred medium. Effective leaders consider how they communicate and how that communication builds or reduces trust in their groups and organizations. That means that just like in a sizeable ad campaign, they consider their audience, the message and how to communicate it. They take into account each of the following components of effective communication:

  • For effective communication, leaders choose the optimum time for important conversations.
  • They use precise words to express what they want or expect; they give specific dates and timelines. They outline specific outcomes. They indicate how and when they will check back.
  • In day-to-day communication, effective leaders think about the relationship. If it is not already strong, they are more careful with their communication, and they work to strengthen the relationship.
  • Effective leaders look at themselves as the medium. Do their bodies and voices convey clarity on and commitment to the request, offer or declaration? Is their mental focus strong enough that there is no doubt about the discussion and expected results?
  • Effective leaders recognize that communication is a two-way street. In addition to telling, it also involves listening. What do people think about a new project, policy or procedure? Not only does listening provide a leader with valuable information about what he or she has said, it also gives the listener an opportunity to express concerns or doubts.
  • Effective leaders listen for and are sensitive to the emotions of the people who hear their requests, offers or declarations. They determine if listeners show resistance or acceptance, confusion or clarity, commitment or compliance. They then make decisions about future action based upon those emotional responses.

Attention to each of these components of effective communication allows everyone to work together more productively. It also provides the leader with greater opportunities to lead and to make a difference.

"The basic building block of good communications is the feeling that every human being is unique and of value." — Unknown

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This topic is covered in much greater detail in my book, Connect: Affective Leadership℠ for Effective Results. 

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