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Speaking With Clarity in Leadership: The Ugly Truth

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There’s a reason communication shows up without fail on lists like Leadership Training Topics Worth Investing In or The Power Skills of 2021. It’s because whether you’re new to management, a seasoned people leader, or on track to executive leadership, your ability to speak with clarity and communicate effectively, both in-person or virtually, will make or break your professional success.

However, the ugly truth, which is reaffirmed by a number of research studies, is that leaders at all levels are failing to speak with clarity in the eyes of their employees. Just consider this statistic: 69% of managers are often uncomfortable communicating with employees. To say this is problematic would be an understatement.

We should also recognize that it is costly, as miscommunication can cost organizations up to $5,200 per employee, per year.

So, how exactly are leaders failing to communicate with employees? According to the respondents of an Interact/Harris Poll, communication issues that impair effective leadership are:

  • Not recognizing employee achievements (63%)
  • Not giving clear directions (57%)
  • Not having time to meet with employees (52%)
  • Refusing to talk to subordinates (51%)
  • Taking credit for others' ideas (47%)
  • Not offering constructive criticism (39%)
  • Not knowing employees' names (36%)
  • Refusing to talk to people on the phone/in-person (34%)
  • Not asking about employees' lives outside of work (23%)

In a different study conducted by The Economist, the three most frequently cited causes of poor communication were different communication styles (42%), unclear responsibilities (34%), and time pressures (31%).

What both of these studies have indicated is that leaders are not speaking with the clarity their employees need to feel prepared, valued, and set up for success. The impacts of which have been found to include added stress, a delay or failure to complete projects, low morale, missed performance goals, and even lost sales.

Unsurprisingly, the impacts of ineffective and vague communication have been exacerbated by the pandemic and the wide shift to remote work. In Buffer’s 2021 State of Remote Work report, it was noted that “difficulty with communication and collaboration has been a persistent struggle for remote workers and was the top reported struggle in the 2020 State of Remote Work. However, only 13 percent of them selected difficulties with collaboration and communication as their biggest struggle in 2020, whereas 20.5 percent selected it in 2021. This large difference makes sense, as the organizations and individuals who were remote prior to 2020 likely had many existing processes set up whereas those transitioning to remote work had to acclimate quickly.”

All of which is to say, that improving your communication skills as a leader so you can speak with clarity, intentionally connect with employees, and provide constructive feedback, is an investment worth its weight in gold.

Learn what skills you need to excel as a leader in the guide to people  management.


5 Ways to Improve Your Communication Skills So You Can Speak With Clarity

  1. Critically Analyze Yourself
    As leaders, it’s all too easy to get swept up in the every day or get comfortable with a style or approach, especially when you’re stressed, overworked, and burnt out. Unfortunately, this may be holding you and your employees back. So, first and foremost, take some time for self-reflection, no matter how busy you are. Look at how you have communicated recently in emails, instant messages, meetings, and one-on-one meetings from your employee’s perspective. Pay special attention to those situations that did not go as intended. Did your communication have something to do with it? Were you clear enough? Could you have approached the situation differently?

  2. Ask For Feedback
    Once you have reflected on your own communication skills and abilities, turn to your employees, leaders, and peers for honest feedback. It may be helpful to reference a circumstance where miscommunication happened so that the feedback is not so open-ended. Doing so will either confirm your suspicions, bring blindspots to light, or affirm your strengths, all of which can be used to create a personal training and development plan.

  3. Enroll In Communication Training
    Once you know more exactly what you want to improve in regards to communication, look for a training program that will suit your goals, learning style, budget, and timeline. For example, if your organization offers you an individual training budget, you want to receive training within the next quarter, select a provider like the Niagara Institute, which offers communication programs in an open-enrollment format so you can get the training you need, when you need it, instead of waiting for your organization to send you to group training.

  4. Seek Out Coaching
    Whether used in conjunction with communication training or on its own, one-to-one coaching is ideally suited for those with a specific goal in mind, such as improving their ability to speak with clarity. Not to mention, coaching is a truly personalized development activity as you work one-on-one with an experienced coach when it works best for you, how it works best for you, and only on the topics that are exactly right for you.

  5. Practice, Practice, Practice
    One of the best ways for adults to learn is to learn by doing or to practice. Don’t feel pressured to apply every theory, technique, or communication tool all at once. Rather, find opportunities at work that are relatively low-risk so you can test out what you’ve learned. This approach will allow you to get comfortable with what you’ve learned and apply it in ways that feel most natural and work most effectively for you and your employees. Is there a chance you will fail? Always. Will it be a great learning experience? Absolutely.


Conclusion: Speaking With clarity is key to your success in leadership

Becoming an effective communicator who speaks with clarity takes time, effort, experience, and intentionality. While there are no doubt short-term benefits to developing your communication skills, keep in mind that it is a lifelong learning process. So, as long as you are doing all the right things, like enrolling in training, seeking coaching, asking for feedback, critically analyzing yourself, and practicing, you can rest assured that you are well on your way. 

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