By Manie Bosman
Understanding your own and other people’s communication style and preferences (see Communication: Its a Matter of Style) can be a significant step forward in improving your communication efficiency. However, this still doesn’t guarantee meaningful communication interaction from this point forward. Here are four pillars of effective communication of which we all need to be aware of on our personal communication-improvement journey. Evaluate your own communication behaviour against these important constructs and see if there is room for progress:
Are You Always Engaged or Truly Engaging?
All communication – whether by e-mail or face-to-face – is based on a relationship between the communicator and the receiver of the message. Leaders who understand the value of personal relationships with their followers are able to use these relationships as a platform for more effective communication. Stronger relationships lead to increased trust between the two parties, and this enhances communication and understanding. In this electronic era, leaders should still create opportunities for regular personal interaction with their followers. Personal interaction not only strengthens the relationship, it also enhances the follower’s sense of being “valued” and stimulates “upward communication, thus creating more openness and honesty between follower and leader.
One construct of good leader-follower relationships is a concept known as “immediacy” – communication that strengthens the physical or psychological closeness and nonverbal interaction between two individuals. This boils down to communicating in a way that creates rapport and mutual liking between you and another individual or group of individuals. Both verbal and nonverbal means of communication could be used here, including keeping eye contact, leaning towards the person, touching (be very careful here), sitting close to the person, speaking in an animated way, and smiling at the person. It has been established that by displaying immediacy, leaders strengthen their relationship with their followers, while also creating a more positive work environment and increasing their followers’ job satisfaction.
However, during leader-follower interaction the relationship should not overshadow the content of the message. A strong correlation exists between effective communication and both relational- and task-orientated leadership. This means that leaders who communicate well manage to maintain strong personal relationships with their followers, while still ensuring that the content or task is communicated in a clear and efficient manner.
Are You Merely Hearing or Really Listening?
Relational leadership – a term generally referring to transformational and servant leadership – strongly relies on the personal influence that the leader has on guiding the follower’s decisions. As in any relationship, communication is a two-way affair, and this makes listening a pillar – if not THE pillar – of effective communication. Effective listeners know that they need to do more than just “hear” – they give their undivided attention to the communicator while evaluating his or her words as well as nonverbal messages. Leaders who are good listeners show concern and respect for the values, needs, goals and opinions of their followers. This promotes the free and open exchange of ideas and information, it stimulates creativity, it again improves job satisfaction and performance, and it strengthens the trust-based relationship between leader and follower.
Are You Listening with Eyes Wide Open?
Communication consists of much more than mere spoken words or letters on a screen. Nonverbal communication consist of gestures, body positions, facial expressions and other physical reactions that may either support or contradict what the person is saying in words. By being aware of your own nonverbal behaviour as well as that of those with whom you are communicating, it is possible to increase the effectiveness of your communication. For instance, note how people often subconsciously mimic certain mannerisms, postures and facial expressions of a group or key members in the group. This is known as nonverbal mirroring or the “Chameleon Effect”, and it strengthens mutual liking, rapport, and affiliation between individuals. Observing people’s mimicry reactions provides some helpful clues to their personality and emotional reaction to what is being communicated. For instance, individuals with a higher empathy level show significantly more mimicry reactions than those with a lower empathy level, while people who agree with what is being said are also more likely to mimic than those who disagree.
Are You Giving Instructions or Providing Direction?
Everyone knows that vision casting and goal setting are crucial leadership functions. Leaders who are able to communicate their vision effectively, gain the confidence of their followers, create momentum and are ultimately more likely to succeed. However, this will not happen if the vision is vague and the goals uncertain. Studies have shown that followers perform better when leaders communicate goals in a clear and highly directive style. As a leader, you need to communicate exactly what needs to be done, who should do it and how it should be done. This does not imply that you should be prescriptive and authoritarian – on the contrary – but it is your responsibility to make sure everyone knows what is to be done and what is expected of them.
Copyright Strategic Leadership Institute 2010