You might think that the people who report to you understand you. You might also believe that they would tell you if they didn’t. The truth is that often, leaders speak in a way that doesn’t get through to the very people who need to hear what you have to say; and those recipients of your communication are reluctant to tell you that.
How do I know? Because I walked in your shoes and was continually surprised by misunderstandings that were the result of my lack of clarity in communicating. I’ve also worked with lots of leaders whose employees tell me that they feel like they don’t understand what their manager wants. That lack of understanding and reluctance to address it leaves a lot of room open for confusion and assumptions.
You might also feel frustrated that your team isn’t moving in the direction that you thought you were clear about. Your frustration shows, furthering the gulf between your expectations and the willingness of your employees to come forward and admit that they don’t understand the direction.
Lack of clarity results in wasted time, frustration, and even real bottom-line slippage. So how do you make sure your communication is clearly understood?
Pace: So often it’s the manager’s fast pace that leaves people confused and disoriented. Slow down, and allow time for a real conversation over the things that matter. Fast pace is sometimes necessary, but the important stuff (“How do we achieve the mission?” or “What are our highest priorities?”) require a two-way conversation, and that takes some time.
Listen: Ask questions, and listen to the answers that your team provides. Listen more than you think you need to because the answers will tell you if they understand (or not). Listening to them will help them to feel comfortable enough to ask more questions, an important component of being clear about direction.
Words: There are words and acronyms that leaders may use that might not be clear to the people who report to them. Simplify the words, define them, or ask if people know what the words mean before moving on in your communication. And by all means use the fewest number of words you can while still getting your points across.
Repeat: When something is important enough to reinforce, find ways to repeat it in different venues and ways. You can do this in one to one meetings, small and larger groups, electronically and in-person. Change up your words a bit, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat your message because not everyone is ready to hear it at the same time.
Wrap-up: When communicating important messages, ask others what they heard, especially if the conversation winds and turns before it’s completed. Do this in a respectful way. Asking will help you to know if you have to try again and be more clear.
Clarity is beautiful. The word itself reminds us of a piece of a beautiful, crystal clear glass without added embellishments or blemishes. That’s what clarity in communication is like. In exchange for your clarity, you’ll have employees who are crystal clear about the direction they need to take.
More From Mary Jo Asmus
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive/leadership coach whose work spans decades of making a difference in the lives of hundreds of executives, leaders and teams in Fortune 500, mid- and small- sized business, governments and nonprofits. She focuses on facilitating individuals and teams from first-line supervisor to the C-suite to create, develop, and influence the relationships that can make them extraordinary.