In every organization I have ever worked in, communication has been one of the top three issues that people complained about. Why is that? My theory is that people have higher expectations for the quality, quantity, frequency and content of communication than most leaders are willing or able to deliver. Expectations that go unmet leave people unsatisfied and even upset.
So what constitutes great communication? Is it making your point really well? Is it being energetic, motivating and persuasive? Well, maybe… but making points has mostly to do with the speaking part of communication. My assertion is that great communication is more about listening and asking questions than it is about speaking and making points.
I’m referring to those experiences when you were able to fully express yourself and the person you were speaking with listened as though you were the only person alive on the planet.
Here’s what I mean
The quality of my communication is in the ear of the beholder… the person listening. In a very practical sense, if the listener does not receive and understand my meaning in the way I intended it, the message never got there. No matter how eloquent I may think I am, the quality of the communication is low. The question that helps me manage the quality of my communication is, ” what are people left with after I speak?” By attending to what people are left with, the meaning that they take away, I take responsibility for both sides of the conversation. I check out their interpretations by asking for their feedback.
Now here’s a tricky part
As a leader, people will give me their interpretations to the degree that they trust me to respect their feedback. If they believe that giving me honest feedback will trigger an argument or some retaliation, they will most likely withhold their feedback. People tend to trust other people when they feel that they are being listened to. Listening grants speaking. Check out your own experience: don’t you know instinctively when someone is listening to you openly, completely. I’m not talking about just waiting quietly for their turn to speak. I’m referring to those experiences when you were able to fully express yourself and the person you were speaking with listened as though you were the only person alive on the planet. That’s what I mean when I say “Listening grants speaking.”
If you were to provide open, authentic and generous listening, people will provide open, authentic and generous speaking. With this quality of openness, you will find that there is room to advocate your views and perspectives and to inquire into the views and perspectives of the people you work with. A dialogue will emerge. By attending to the quality of your listening, you will find that you can create a balance of inquiry and advocacy that satisfies people’s expectations for great communication.
As designated leaders, we are often very good at sharing ideas and advocating for what we want. The real opportunity for us is learning more about how we listen and what others are able to say around us that contributes to our mutual objectives. In this way, communication becomes a very important tool of leadership.