Communicating as a Leader

A Leader Communicates Effectively: Learn To Listen!

Louis Bonaventura asked:

There is more to effective communications than just being able to express yourself verbally. You must be willing and able to listen to others! Learning to listen is more than half the battle.

Listening is the way you learn what is going on and how it affects people. Usually, when there is a problem in an organization, it’s because the leader hasn’t listened to what is going on until it’s too late and the situation has occurred.

There are two things you can do to grow your listening skills.

First, practice effective questioning. Think about questions you need to ask and ask good questions. You need to hear the answers from others, so don’t have any preconceived notions about them.

Second, look for feedback. Giving and receiving feedback is a win-win situation. Ask for feedback from all members of the team, or group, and listen to it with an open mind. You need to remain open minded in order to effectively evaluate the answers you receive. This will also build trust amongst the group.

As a leader, you will eventually, and from time to time, have to deliver bad news to your team members. This is when your listening skills are the most critical. You must be as sharp as possible in listening to the feedback from team members in a bad situation so that you can effectively determine the impact this has on the people as individuals, and on the group as a whole.

There is a sequence of emotions that everyone goes through when they hear bad news. It starts with shock, moves to anger, rejection, and finally acceptance. After you tell them the news, you must become a top-notch listener. You must ask the right questions and ask for feedback so you know what people are feeling. Once you do this, you can help them move through the stages to accepting the situation.

Every leader is also faced with some form of conflict at one time or another. As the leader, you will be the one the group looks to for resolution of the problem. Conflict should be handled rapidly so it isn’t lingering over the heads of the group or people involved. Lingering problems can cause reduce productivity, poor decision making and destroy relationships. Conflict can not be ignored, hoping that it will simply go away. If you don’t feel comfortable handling conflict resolution or confronting conflicts, you should not be a leader. It’s as simple as that! Your strength as a leader will be measured on your awareness of the conflict and your ability to resolve it. If you don’t, or can’t perform these functions, you will lose the respect of the team and people will begin to leave the organization or interrupt its progress. Communication is the key to conflict resolution. There are several steps you can take in these situations.

First, collect information. Listen to all party’s point of view. Get the opinion of outsiders if you feel it is required. The viewpoints will most likely be totally different. You need to know the feelings along with the facts from all sides in order to successfully resolve the conflict. You must ask difficult questions and listen for the answers to determine the correct path to take to resolution.

Clarify the issues. Restate the points that were made and ask the people to correct you if you misunderstood what they were saying or feeling.

Identify common ground. Move to neutral territory. This is important so that one person does not have an advantage while another is disadvantaged. Whether this is perceived or factual, it will play a role in resolving the conflict and could cause animosity towards you from one party or the other. If one person feels slighted, or that you put them in an unfair situation, you have lost their respect. Use your power as the leader to determine where and when the discussions will take place and how you will proceed. Remember, you are in charge and they came to you for help! If you need to sit people down to talk together, a round table is the most non-threatening arrangement.

Create an action plan. Be a mediator if possible and let the group discover the plan. If the group is too large or totally disagrees, you will need to step in and assign a resolution and delegate who will perform what actions. Be sure to set a deadline for the actions and assign responsibility for their completion. Communicate the assignments, making sure they are crystal clear to everyone involved and check to be sure you were understood correctly.

If a conflict cannot be resolved (which is rare but does occur), you will need to make the decisions yourself that are best for the group and the mission as a whole. Tell the group that you are making the decisions and taking the actions that you feel are best for everyone and explain why you feel that way.

Conflict can actually be healthy. It could possibly expose differences of opinion that can create an exchange of ideas to help move you and your team forward. The key is not to allow confined frustration to hamper productivity or cause people to give up. You must act quickly and authoritatively in these situations.

Your goal is mature communication amongst the team members. This type of communication allows the words, thoughts and messages to be delivered with a balance of emotional and intellectual intensity. As a leader, you have to understand that people will respond from a place of emotion initially and logic does not play a part there. Allow them time to move from emotion to intellect so they can reason out the problem intelligently, not emotionally. Don’t be judgmental, and allow people to express themselves. Your sensitivity is vital and you can’t ignore the emotions involved.

So be a great example. Your actions will speak louder than your words! You will not have the respect of your team if you don’t “walk your talk.” And learn to listen!

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