This past week I have been reminded, yet again, of the importance of communication. I know I’m not alone in knowing this leadership reality and still struggling to be effective in my communications. There are many reasons effective communication is challenging. For one, we each have preferred methods both for receiving communications and sending them. Mismatches in these styles can hamper our ability to communicate. We also have differences in our preferences regarding the level of communication. Some of us like lots of detail and want to hear from our colleagues continuously; others of us prefer the big picture and only want to know when it’s something big – of course we need to understand their definition of big. Sometimes we only want to hear the good news. Unfortunately, as Kim Campbell* puts it, “If you don’t like bad news, you should get out of the leadership business. Your job is to hear as much bad news as there is out there and to figure out ways of dealing with it.”
While all of these are real issues in communication, I sometimes think the biggest problem is time. Effective communication takes time. We have to pay attention to what information we are receiving and evaluate it. We have to decide what needs to be shared and with whom. We have to consider who needs to hear this information and how rapidly and in what format. Does it need to be face-to-face? Will a phone call do? What about e-mail? And then we have to ignore all the other demands on our attention and actually communicate.
Then there’s the public aspect of communication. When we have formal leadership roles, our public communication may be even more critical and time-consuming. As leaders we have to choose our messages carefully and we have to repeat those select messages multiple times. It’s not that people aren’t listening to us; it’s that they too have multiple demands on their time and attention and we need to recognize and honor that.
And last, but definitely not least, is the other side of communication. As Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall said, “Listening well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well.” In order to be effective in our communications we must listen well and, in this day of e-mail, read well. In other words, we must be open to hearing what others have to tell us. And again, this takes time. It also takes a willingness to set aside our need to be heard and that may be the toughest part of communication there is.
So, this week, I challenge each of us to find time for effective communication. It saves time in the long run, but more importantly it helps all of us be better leaders and work together more effectively and that’s always time well spent.
*The book Everyone Leads attributes this quote to Kim Campbell with no further identification and I can’t find it elsewhere. However, Kim Campbell the former, and to date, only female, Canadian Prime Minister speaks and writes on leadership including at this blog http://www.bitesizechunks.org/blog/ so I believe she is the likely author.