Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Importance of Clear Communication

We were sitting in his office having just finished up a long day of meetings and inservices when he turned to me and said, “Oh, I forgot to tell you my good news. I found what I have been looking for. It took a while but I found the perfect bra. It is the right color, shape and the fit is perfect.”

At first, I was a tad bit confused. But I knew that I had heard exactly what he had said. The puzzled look on my face caused him to burst out laughing.

“That must have sounded pretty funny. Sorry about that,” he explained. “I am an old car buff, and have been working many years on rebuilding a great 1950’s era Chevy. The bra is the protective covering I will strap on the front when I drive it to area car shows.”

I then nodded in understanding and said “Congratulations.”

When we become a leader, it is critical that we focus on our communication. We have to be clear in what we say and how we say it, recognizing that information without context can be quite confusing to the listener.

At the same time, we need to be very mindful of our unspoken messages. Our body language communicates faster than our words. Often it is misconstrued, resulting in a loss of understanding and even trust.

Furthermore, we need to be more mindful when we listen to others. This requires a high degree of concentration and on-going attention to the overall flow of the conversation. Too many times, I have observed leaders who only listen to respond rather than truly listen to understand. The result is that their staff interprets their communication as not caring.

Some days however even the best of us just get too busy trying to multi-task that we forget the impact of our words. A dear long term friend caught me in this situation recently when she called me up on the phone. I was deep into a strategic planning project when I answered, and unfortunately I did not give her my complete attention.

As usual, the first thing she did was ask me “How are you?”

My response was “Not bad.”

She paused and said, “Having a rough day?”

“No,” I replied.

“Then, why,” she inquired, “are you ‘not bad’? In the continuum of life, there is terrible -> bad -> not bad -> OK -> pretty good -> good -> great. Not bad is way down and closer to the bottom than the top. Are you sure you are feeling so low?”

I realized that she was exactly right. My response was not accurate. I was actually just busy and not very focused. I amended my first answer. “I am really good. Thanks for helping me be more clear.”

After our conversation, I realized that leaders, myself included, do not always give our full attention to sharing and listening. The impact in the above situation was minor but it is critical that we as leaders are more thoughtful in how we communicate.

Creating clarity in our organizations this spring begins with being more clear and being more attentive to what we are saying and how we are saying it. Otherwise, we may end up in an embarrassing situation or having communicated the wrong thing.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

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