7 Communication Blunders to Avoid as a Leader

Heneka Watkis-Porter

05 March 2019

Communication in its purest form is simply transferring information from one source to another, whether it be through a written, verbal and/or nonverbal exchange. While the definition may be simple, the actual communication process is a lot more complex than its meaning lets on.

We all aspire to be leaders who are effective communicators but, oftentimes, we miss the mark. Some leaders don’t communicate often enough, which results in a lack of clarity that increases confusion and leads to mistakes. Other leaders communicate too much, causing their teams to have a hard time sorting through the information and deciphering their priorities.

The communication process is intricate and, as leaders, it’s our duty to be lifelong learners on how we can better connect with those around us. To help you with what not to do when interacting with others and to improve your interactions with your followers, here are seven communication blunders to avoid in your leadership.

1. Undervaluing the Importance of Effective Communication

Winning at life and leadership requires we win at relationships, and we can’t win at relationships if we are poor communicators. One of the first steps in becoming a better communicator is by spending time evaluating how we communicate with others. The most effective communicators recognize the value of this leadership tool and place a premium on ensuring that they up the ante in this area.

2. Building Communication Barriers

Many times in our interactions with others, the message we intended to send gets lost in the transmission (and translation) process. This is because we build barriers, often unintentionally. These blockades range, but the most important barriers to pay attention to are a lack of interest and distractions. Your followers can tell when you’re uninterested in what they’re saying or when you let distractions take you away from listening in the present moment—all of this can make them feel like they aren’t valued and that their voice isn’t heard.

To ensure your message doesn’t get lost in translation, avoid using jargon that bars your message from being received as intended. With each interaction, it is advisable that we check our message against our audience to ensure congruence. This will guarantee that we are effectively sending the message we want to convey.

3. Talking Too Much

Communication is a two-way street. We must resist the temptation to selfishly dominate conversations. While the ability to hear is a physical activity, listening is a skill. We should aim to listen twice as much as we speak, giving the other party room to voice concerns and express their thoughts and ideas without feeling intimidated.  

For leaders who are naturally talkative, listening may require more practice. When we listen, we make sense of what others are saying. Avoid listening with the intention of how you’ll respond. Rather, listen attentively and empathetically. This provides an opportunity to respond accurately.

4. Ignoring the Communication Style of Those We Lead 

Everyone communicates differently and usually falls in one of four basic styles: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive or assertive. Having an understanding of the different communication styles of those we lead is essential to effectively building win-win relationships with them. When we make a conscious effort to do this, we have a chance to build a strong rapport with our team.

5. Being Unaware of Nonverbal Messages

Sometimes what we are saying with our mouths and what our actions are indicating are completely misaligned. For example, a team member comes to your office to talk about her concerns. You assure her that she has your undivided attention yet you are fully immersed in your computer screen, finishing up your report due in an hour. This is actually sending the message that your are too busy to hear what she has to say and that her concerns aren’t a priority.

Instead, try and display positive body language that signals active listening such as eye contact. Close your laptop or turn your computer off. Put your phone away and give her your undivided attention. If you are genuinely busy, ask your team member to return at a better time when you can give her the attention she deserves.

6. Not Being Assertive Enough

It’s important for leaders to remember they were given a seat at the table for a reason. Speaking up can be intimidating for some, but there are times we must be assertive and stay true to what we think the best course of action is for a given situation. Being assertive is simply stating our desires while considering the feelings and opinions of others. While we need to consider how others feel, we shouldn’t shrink and project uncertainty. This lack of confidence will be evident to others and will negatively affect the outcome of the results we need to have.

7. Avoiding Difficult Conversations

We all need feedback to be able to grow, and there are moments when leaders must provide negative feedback to their team members to help them improve in the work they do. For some, giving negative feedback is a challenge but, nonetheless, it must be done. Avoiding a problem now may eventually lead to a bigger one down the road.

You can mitigate against any backlash by adequately preparing ahead of time how you will communicate negative feedback. The sandwich approach usually work for me—that is give positive feedback first, followed by the negative and closing with more positive feedback. This goes a long way in cushioning the blow that can come when we have to communicate something that could hurt someone’s feelings.

As you develop your leadership skills over time, you will begin to become a master in communication, but remember it’s a lifelong journey. Never stop learning, never stop growing.

Can you think of other communication blunders we make as leaders? Share them with us on Twitter using #LeadercastCommunication.

Heneka Watkis-Porter

Heneka Watkis-Porter is an entrepreneur, author, speaker and host of The Entrepreneurial You podcast. She is founder and CEO of Patwa Culcha International, which owns the authentic Jamaica clothing brand, Patwa Apparel. Heneka is also the creator of the Caribbean’s first virtual conference and expo: The Entrepreneurial You Virtual SME Conference & Expo and Host Site leader for Leadercast Women.

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