Everything I have learned about excellent and thorough communication I have learned from my 10-year-old grandson, Silas.
Silas is hearing impaired.
The lessons I have learned from conversing with my grandson have improved my skills of communicating my team.
LESSON 1: GET CLOSE ENOUGH TO BE HEARD
When I need to speak to my grandson, I need to make sure that I am close enough for him to hear me. Trying to converse with him across a noisy room is ineffective. If I want to tell him something important or give instruction, I walk over him to him and position myself face to face in front of him. This allows him to read my lips, interpret my body language, and easily access the sound of my voice.
The same is true with how leaders should communicate with their team. Leaders need to be in regular close contact with their immediate team so that they can be heard. The temptation for leaders is to remain distant and only engage when necessary. This hinders effective communication. The more your team is around you, the more they understand and can anticipate your expectations, perspective and preferences. In the same, the more you are around them, you will know their expectations, perspective, and preferences. Excellent communication thrives in context and context is best understood when you choose to become familiar with it.
LESSON 2: IF NOT YOUR NOT UNDERSTOOD, TRY SAYING IT A DIFFERENT WAY
Sometimes my grandson will say, "What did you say, Poppy?" and I will want to shout my sentence to him, thinking if I just get louder, he will understand. The issue is not that he couldn't hear me but rather he was not understanding what I saying. I was heard but not understood. I have learned that sometimes I have to rephrase my sentences, slow down, and maybe even gesture to help him understand what I am trying to communicate.
Leaders become frustrated when their team is not understanding what is being said. The temptation is to just say the same thing over and over again until both the leader and the team are upset. Leaders need to become excellent at finding creative ways of communicating with their team. Communication may require visuals, a different approach or breaking the steps down into accessible pieces.
LESSON 3: ASK QUESTIONS TO CONFIRM YOU HAVE BEEN HEARD
When I have given Silas instructions, I often need to ask him questions afterward to see if he understood what I have asked of him.
"Silas, when you go outside, please remember to shut the screen door. Can you remember why it needs to be remained shut?"
"It needs to stay shut so that the bugs don't fly into the house. Grammy hates bugs."
When we are giving instructions to our team, we need to ask them questions to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Often leaders will throw instructions at their team without ever taking the time to confirm that the instructions have truly been heard and understood. The best way to confirm that communication has been effective is asking specific questions. Questions are the bridges to conclusions. Leaders must become excellent question askers if they want to see their team and mission come to a successful conclusion.
For more on effective communication, please read:
Todd Polyniak is a partner at SAX and is an expert in Not-For-Profit financial health for over 30 years.