People pay attention to what their leaders say.

That’s why as a leader, you have to be especially conscious of how you communicate.

It’s tricky enough to communicate well in person. It’s even more so on video, by phone or in writing because each of those mediums provides fewer cues on what the other person(s) are thinking and feeling.

But no matter how good your intentions may be, it’s easy for your communications to be misconstrued if you’re not careful.

How Communications Can Go Off Track

So often leaders, even if they're well-intended, just miss the mark with their communications. I've experienced this countless times in my career, and I’ve heard the same from many of my clients.

Perhaps you can identify with some of these real-life examples of leadership communication that had unintended impact, and not in a good way.

Sounding Out of Touch

The Division Head introduces the gender diversity discussion by saying, “And now it’s time to talk about the ladies…” His tone and word choice give his team members the impression that he’s out of touch.

And even though he’s publicly stated his commitment to improving gender diversity, his team comes away thinking he’s not serious about the topic.

The Frankenstein Memo

The announcement memo for the new policy arrives. It’s long on platitudes and sweeping generalizations (aka “corporate speak”), leaving team members to decipher what’s really being said.

It’s obvious that the memo has been stitched together through layers of corporate approvals because there are a variety of fonts in the document. The watered-down message is uninspiring and leaves people wondering what management is trying to hide.

Not Closing the Loop

Team members were excited about the chance to share their views when their senior managers asked for their opinions. They were even more impressed when managers promised to take action.

Three months later, people are still waiting for feedback on what’s happening. Without closing the loop on the follow up, the leaders leave people feeling they’ve wasted their time. Silence communicates a message too! In this case, it lands as disrespect and confirmation that the team has no real say in what happens.

None of these leaders wanted their communications to go badly. In fact, they had positive intentions. But that doesn’t always translate into positive impact.

Sometimes it’s because your team has a different perspective than you do. Other times it could be that you’re in a hurry, under stress or so relaxed that you aren’t self-managing in the moment.

Whatever the reason, as a leader you still want your message to be understood by everyone on the team.

Mind the Gap Between Intention and Impact

An essential part of communication is about getting through to others. Landing your message. Expressing yourself in a way that your partner in communication understands – ideally instantly. Getting your point across in the best possible way.

The way to do that is to focus on both sides of the communication – yours and theirs.

It’s like throwing a ball to someone. You might think you’re tossing the ball gently, but the person you’re throwing to might perceive it as a high-speed pitch and have a hard time catching it. Their perception becomes the reality you face.

Whether you’re throwing a ball or communicating with your team, recognize that the one-size-fits-all approach rarely works.

That’s why it helps to look for whether there’s a gap between your intention and your impact.

Close the Gap and Land Your Message

Before you communicate, think about what blend of words, phrases and speaking tone will be most effective with the people you’re talking to. Also, think about what you want to avoid saying or doing that might create a negative result.

And as you communicate, be on the lookout for how your message is landing. If you’re not sure, ask them. That way you have an opportunity to address any gaps right then and there.

Not only does this reduce the chance for misunderstanding, it also sets a tone of transparency in your relationship going forward.

Coming back to the example of throwing a ball: If your intention is to throw the ball so the other person can catch it, then you’ll toss it gently to a toddler and throw it harder to a professional baseball player.

When your intention is matched by your impact on others, you’ll be well on your way to achieving the outcome you want.

Communicate Better as a Leader

When you get your communications wrong, it hurts your ability to be an effective leader. People lose respect for you and maybe even for themselves. This hurts your relationships and your team’s ability to perform and deliver results.

To avoid this pain and communicate better as a leader, the key is to minimize any potential gaps between your intention and impact.

That means:

  • Choosing your words and tone carefully so they’re aligned with your intentions
  • Checking to see if your message landed in the way you intended
  • And above all, having the communication in the first place. When people don’t hear from you, they start to make things up which causes a whole set of other issues, and that’s another topic altogether…

When it comes to communicating with your team and stakeholders, what will you do to close the gap between your intention and impact?

Leave a comment and let me know.