Being a good communicator tops the list of just about every list of leadership qualifications (ours included!) Some people seem to be born with the ability to capture thoughts just right and deliver them in a way that is engaging and clear. And then there are the rest of us, who work to be good communicators but could always use some pointers.
Over the years, I have attended trainings, learned from mentors, and made observations about what it takes to be a good communicator. There are several things that have really stuck with me that I think are worth sharing. We will always be improving in this area, so I’d love to hear what has been helpful for you, in your own journey, to be a better communicator.
Let’s start by taking a look at what sets great communicators apart from average communicators. Here are the 6 key elements I have identified as being essential to becoming a great communicator.
6 Elements of a Great Communicator
Be clear. Know the outcome of the conversation and work towards achieving that goal.
- Use simple words. Over-complicated words and acronyms will only muck up the communication.
- Be present. Your attention should be solely focused on the person(s) you are talking to.
- Ask questions. Ask clarifying questions to be sure you understand what is being said.
- Listen. Do not do all the talking. Listening is a huge part of communication.
- Know your audience. Know what communication style works for the person(s) you are addressing.
Be Clear in Your Communication
What is a practical way to be clear? Know the purpose of the conversation and consider stating that purpose at the beginning of your interaction so everyone knows what you are shooting for. To help with this element, I recommend the STAR method which is something I learned over the years and may be familiar to you.
S – Identify the situation you are encountering.
T – Know the targeted outcome of the conversation.
A – State the actions that need to take place.
R – Determine how the results will be measured.
Let’s look at an example:
Situation: The net promoter score is not meeting the company’s stated goal.
Target: Increase net promoter score to meet the goal.
Action: Brainstorm possible solutions and implement the top 3.
Results: Evaluate the score 6 months later, after implementing the action plan.
Give the STAR method a try and see if it helps you to be clearer in your communication. I have found that having a result in mind helps me lead the conversation in a way that is productive and purposeful.
Use Simple Words in Your Communication
What is meant by using simple words? Don’t try to impress the audience with business jargon, ostentatious words, or unfamiliar acronyms. (Did you have to look up ostentatious?) Too many big words get annoying. Your message will get lost in the unfamiliar words and your communication will be ineffective.
When you leave a conversation, the audience should not be confused. Sometimes the best way to boil down complex ideas is to use an analogy. If there is a relevant word-picture, use that to help bring simplicity to the situation.
This Forbes article provides some examples and further explains the different kinds of analogies. The author provides this simple point, “Comparing the unfamiliar to the familiar is something everyone in every field needs to do if they want their audience to understand their message.”
Be Present during Communication
What does it look like to be present during communication? More than being physically (or virtually, as is often the case these days) present is about being present mentally. Your audience, whether it is the CEO or the front desk receptionist, should know that they have your undivided attention when you are interacting. The people who do this best are the ones who make you feel like you are the only person in the world at that given time. How can you accomplish this? Here are three tips:
- Don’t look at your phone or your watch.
- Make eye contact.
- Paraphrase what the other person said so that the person knows you heard.
The Role of Questions in Communication
How do questions enhance a good communicator? There are a lot of benefits to asking questions.
- Questions show that you are a collaborator. You are not a dictator ready to spout off solutions.
- Questions help people solve their own problems. Ask people for their recommendation even if you have a good answer ready.
- Questions ensure you are solving the right problem. If you do not have all the details you won’t solve the right problem.
- Questions help you get to the root of the issue. Keep asking “Why” and “Tell me more” to be sure everyone is dealing with the root of the issue, not just the fruit of the issue.
- Questions directed at you help you build trust and a safe culture. When people feel they can ask you questions, that cultivates authenticity.
The Listening Side of Communication
What part does listening have in communication? Simply put; it plays a huge part. People don’t care what you say until you show that you care. Allow people to talk. Sometimes that is the only solution people are looking for, just someone to listen.
I often think of WAIT to help me keep my mouth shut. Why Am I Talking? If I find myself rambling, it is a sure sign that I need to shut my mouth and do more listening. If you can’t answer the WAIT question with a good answer, listening is the best thing you can do.
I’ve found this to be especially helpful in my family. Sometimes my husband or grown kids will say, “I just need a listening ear.” This one sentence helps me to give them what they need. Rather than providing a list of possible solutions, I give them the communication that is most helpful in the situation – active listening.
Know Your Audience
If you know your audience well, you can adjust your communication to fit them. For example, with many of my colleagues, we’ve worked together long enough that we can skip the pleasantries and be direct about what we need. Similarly, in some circles, it would be expected that you use acronyms to talk about specific topics that everyone is familiar with.
Adapting your communication to fit the people you are addressing can help to be sure you are communicating in a way that will be received well. Some people need time to process, and you will need to allow for that. These nuances can make a difference in the effectiveness of your communication.
There you have my 6 suggestions for how to be a good, working on great, communicator. Since we are all working on this together, I’d love to hear what other tips you have. Or let me know, if one of the ones I mentioned is something you have in your toolbelt, as well. Let’s keep working to improve!