Communication is essential in every aspect of life that deals with relationships.
However, when it comes to leadership, a failure to communicate consistently is the beginning of the end. However, just because it’s critical doesn’t mean most leaders are good at it.
In research from the SkillsLoft assessments, clarity is the most common leadership skill plaguing high-performing and low-performing leaders. When leaders struggle to communicate with clarity, it creates confusion.
Leaders who struggle to communicate with clarity create confusion.
For clarity (see what I did there), let’s get on the same page about what it means in the context of leadership. Clarity is the ability to be clear, concise, and impactful when communicating verbally or in writing. Leaders tend to struggle with clarity for one of three reasons:
False Assumptions - Leaders live so much in their heads that they assume people know, and often they don’t.
Premature Thoughts - In our fast-paced business environment, it’s almost encouraged to say or write something before it is well thought out or complete.
Incomplete Information - There is a growing sense to communicate regardless of whether managers have all the information or not.
Of the three, false assumptions are the most important to unpack and solve. “Clarity is not only kind, it’s essential. Clarity brings oxygen into the room, so it isn’t filled with worry, doubt, blame, and fear,” said Jason Barger, author of the new book Breathing Oxygen, on the latest episode of The John Eades Podcast. His words are wise because, in the absence of clear communication, team members will fill the gaps with their own incorrect stories.
In the absence of clear communication, team members fill the gaps with their own incorrect stories.
Too often, leaders make assumptions that they have communicated with clarity. In one of my favorite books of all time, The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, he wrote, “Assumptions set us up for suffering.”
Assumptions in communication set everyone up for suffering.
Since each leader might be transparent in their communication one day and struggle with it the next, small changes often lead to big gains. For these small changes to take effect, they must be made prior to communicating instead of after.
Small changes in communication can lead to big gains in comprehension and execution.
A straightforward strategy I coach leaders to leverage is to ask themselves one of three questions before communicating. These questions take less than one minute:
Is what I am about to say or write helpful?
What action do I desire others to take?
Is this making the waters clearer or murkier?
While these three questions are simple, it doesn’t mean they are easy to answer. However, if you get in the habit of asking yourself one of these three questions before hitting send on an email or text, I promise you will improve your clarity.
Here is the tricky part, this is much easier to do with written communication. Verbal communication is much more difficult. Often you are speaking off the cuff or after an emotional response, thus making it exponentially more difficult.
A tiny strategy you can use is to ask the person or people you are communicating with a simple question when you are finished speaking:
“What was your main takeaway from what I said?”
While this technique might make you feel a little bit like an elementary school teacher, it dramatically reduces the likelihood of assumptions taking place.
Being more clear in your communication won’t be easy. The challenge to you this week is to get in the habit of asking yourself one simple question before communicating. I promise others will thank you.
John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on Inc.com, LinkedIn Pulse, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningIndustry.com, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College.