The other day during a lazy Saturday morning, my two year old daughter wanted to play hide–and-go-seek. She has the seeking part down but could use some refinement in the hiding aspect. On this particular occasion, she wanted me to hide and she would come find me. I told her, “alright, count to 10 and come find me.” In typical toddler fashion she proceeded to count, “two, 10” and uncovered her eyes to find me still standing there. Turns out while I knew what I meant by count “to 10,” she took a more literal approach to my instructions. After I laughed about it, I put my manager hat on for second and thought about what had just happened. How many times have we in leadership roles thought we were very clear with instructions only to find out that our staff interpreted them differently?
We know how important communication is with not just our staff, but clients and partners as well. I used this moment with my daughter as a teaching opportunity and have attempted to implement the following best practices into my own leadership style based on my “hide-and-go-seek” management lesson:
Plan the message:
Prepare ahead of time before having the discussion with your team. It is imperative to prepare so that you are clear about what results you want so you can articulate that best to your staff. As my grandfather always said, “proper planning prevents poor performance. “
Holding the conversation:
Be direct, do not tiptoe around what you are trying to say; instead say it! Some people avoid being direct for fear of being viewed as “mean,” but clarity can still be given with kindness and respect. Clear and direct communication is a key component to making sure your message is understood and the proper follow up actions are completed. This is especially important when having difficult conversations around topics such as job performance or behavioral issues.
Actively listen to your team, do not just listen to respond. Ask follow-up questions to show you are engaged and to fully understand what the other person has communicated. Keep an open mind and do not just react to what the other party is saying based on your preconceived notions. Deflecting criticism or dismissing an idea out of hand is a quick way to stifle communication between you and your team and can lead to bigger issues down the road.
According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of “Silent Messages”, 7% of any message is conveyed verbally, while 93% is nonverbal. It really does give credence to the old adage, “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it!” This includes facial expressions, hand gestures, posture and eye contact. While you cannot control the other person’s body language, it is imperative that you are aware of your own. Make sure your body language matches what you are saying or the authenticity of your message will lack.
Wrapping up the conversation:
Before ending the conversation, reiterate any next steps for both you and the other person. This is a great way to make sure you are both on the same page and no follow up falls through the cracks. Setting up the next meeting and any deadlines are also best practices to guarantee results. Finally, sincerely thanking someone for his or her time, support, and all that they do, is not just a good business practice; it is a best practice in life.
Communication is the key to a solid foundation in any relationship. The better we communicate with each other the better we are as leaders, employees, partners and people. While there is no single answer for how to improve our communication skills there are steps that each of us can take to get better at this process. After all; there is nothing worse than not being hidden when your toddler is done counting.