Skills for effective leadership: Owning communications—for better or worse

“The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” Sidney J. Harris

Effective communication is a big part of effective leadership. But we all know how easy it is for communications to go awry, and the problems miscommunication can cause.

Once you understand WHY communication breaks down, you can take steps to solve the issues and hone your communication skills to become an effective communicator.

For example, take a look at why…

Messages are undelivered:
  • Bad timing…you meant to deliver that message to Bill, but you got distracted or ran out of time or forgot about it when you saw him.
  • A break in the chain…you told Bill, and you expected Bill to tell Janet, Steve, Diane, and Carol, but that didn’t happen.
  • Fear…you know it’s not going to be an easy message to deliver, so you don’t deliver it.
  • Lack of will…for whatever reason. Maybe you don’t like the person, you don’t want to take the time, or you don’t want to put forth the effort.
Messages are misunderstood:
  • An assumption gap…you assumed your message, that sounded perfectly fine and understandable to you, was received the way you intended, but it wasn’t.
  • Lack of attention…everyone you encounter has a lot on their mind and a lot of distractions. You didn’t create enough of a connection with them to break through everything else and capture their full attention.
  • Wrong method…you tried to convey a lot of detailed information in a conversation, or used email, which can leave a lot up to interpretation and make it hard to convey important nuances.
Messages are incomplete:
  • Bad relay…like the old game of “telephone,” messages that go from point A to point D pass through so many filters that they frequently get lost along the way.
  • Lack of follow-through…everyone agrees something is a good idea, but unless actions are assigned and deliverables are agreed on, it doesn’t happen.
  • Lost in translation…technical jargon, acronyms, and local/regional/national variations and idiosyncrasies muddy the waters.

Next, think of someone or some group you have a communication challenge with. What’s the underlying reason? Message not delivered? Message misunderstood? Message incomplete?

Notice I didn’t say, “They don’t get the message. They misunderstand. They don’t get the full picture.”

That’s because communication breakdowns are the responsibility of the SENDER, and owning communications (for better or worse) is part of effective leadership. By knowing how communications can go wrong, you can take the corresponding steps to own your communications—how they’re sent and how they’re received.

Think of your communication challenges—the people or situations you struggle with: What are your obstacles to taking full ownership? What would you have to change to own communications? To correct them?


Continue reading the next blog in this Communication Series: Skills for effective leadership: Correcting communication breakdowns

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