Inspiring leaders: what makes an effective communicator?

“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, Oh lord please don’t let me be misunderstood”

Animals 1965

Communication is the glue that helps us form relationships and develop bonds. Despite good intentions, communication can often get lost in translation, resulting in misunderstandings and conflict. Effective communication doesn’t come easy and like all skills, the more we practice communicating, the better we become and there are ways we can teach ourselves to be better communicators.

We explore some of the barriers to effective communication, how we can overcome them and how we can learn to be a much more effective communicator.

Communication is evolving ”“ don’t lose humanity in the rush to digital

More and more business is being conducted remotely instead of through face-to-face meetings. Video calls enable us to communicate through a virtual head-on medium whilst physically being miles apart.

But with each new medium of communication comes new considerations ”“ is this the best way to communicate? Will my communication convey the right emotion? The value of retaining at least some face-to-face meeting opportunities cannot be overstated.

As Inc.com notes, in a blog about communication in 2015, effective communication is influenced by how we feel is the most comfortable and suitable way to communicate.

“Each of us has personal preferences for communication based on what we feel is easiest. For example, some people have an easier time writing than speaking, and some people prefer meeting in person rather than the impersonality of text.”

However, as Inc. highlights, it is important to reach beyond the limits of our own convenience, as our choice of communication method can directly impact the efficiency or effectiveness of the communication and the way the message is interpreted.

For example, when Hutchinson Ports, a container wharf operator in Australia, informed 97 people they were sacked by sending a midnight text, controversy naturally followed. As the Sydney Morning Herald wrote in a report about how the text message sacking sent “bastardry to an almost unfathomable low”.

“Some news should never be delivered by text message, like you’re dumped, you’re sick or you’re sacked”. How many ‘difficult conversations’ are now had over an email or a text? What does this say about the senders’ emotional intelligence or even personal values? Or is that they simply do not have the confidence or the know how to communicate verbally? In the rush to integrate digital technology and promote remote or flexible working, it is important not to lose sight of the human element of communications.

Our point? Being an effective communicator doesn’t just require a clear tone of voice, confidence and great body language. It requires the ability to carefully select the method of communication that is most appropriate for each person and situation.

What skills and behaviours do good communicators exhibit?

Good verbal communicators have a number of traits in common.

(1) They are personable, friendly, warm and a good listener

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply,”

Stephen Covey: American educator, author, businessman and keynote speaker.

Effective communicators are personable, they communicate with a warm smile and a friendly tone, and they ask questions and listen to the person they are speaking to. We are subconsciously drawn to people who communicate in this way, people who take time to connect with us and make us feel special. The impression they make on us will be remembered long after we forget the words that they used.

(2) A good communicator thinks before they speak

As the age-old proverb goes:

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Talking for the sake of talking does not make you an effective communicator. In fact, speaking before we think or interrupting others to ‘take the floor’ tends to present a negative impression and reflect poorly on our character.

(3) They speak with confidence, clarity and brevity

Good communicators speak confidently. They are clear and concise.

Mumbling so we’re barely audible is not conducive with great communication skills. Nor is talking for hours at someone on our chosen topic without giving them the opportunity to speak (yawn!).

By contrast, individuals who speak clearly, confidently and concisely are perceived as much better communicators. Clear, concise, confident speakers are often viewed as more credible.

Examples of powerful leaders who are brilliant communicators

Whatever your political views, we have to admit Barack Obama is a good communicator. He speaks confidently with resilience. He doesn’t mumble or mix up his words. He puts his message across in a clear and concise way. It is Obama’s good communication skills and ability to connect with and inspire a diverse range of people that were undoubtedly contributing factors in him becoming US President.

The same cannot be said about Ed Miliband. The former Labour leader’s election campaign in 2015 was tainted by Miliband’s lacklustre communication skills. Being unable to articulate his point in a confident, clear and concise way arguably helped Miliband lose the race to number 10 Downing Street.

It’s been said before and we’ll say it again ”“ the voice is a powerful weapon for politicians. It’s a vital tool of persuasion. Without it, politicians are at a distinct disadvantage.

We only have to look at past leaders to see how important strong communication skills are in leadership. We discuss ways to become a powerful leader here.

Winston Churchill is another example of a leader who was an impeccable communicator. Churchill is often referred to as one the greatest public speakers in history. Churchill put emotion into his speeches. One of his most famous speeches took place on June 18, 1940 when he told the nation that the war in France was over and the war in Britain would begin. The emotion Churchill showed in that speech helped inspire courage, hope and, above all, determination in British people.

Combining the power of words with visual aids

Effective communication does not rely solely on the power of the written or spoken word. Visual aids can be a great way to communicate an intended message, powerfully and concisely.

Take the Marks & Spencer TV adverts about their food range as an example. The female voiceover is smoothly tantalising, and it perfectly complements the images of mouth-watering food, drink and dishes. So powerful is this combination of visual and verbal communication that it makes viewers want to drop what they’re doing and go and buy some M&S food, which is obviously the desired intention of the advert. These adverts always make me hungry!

Yes, being an effective communicator is about much more than having a loud, commanding voice. It requires empathy, active listening skills, creativity and an ability to know when to communicate and by which methods.

For information about our communications training visit our effective communications page.

Check out our blog next week for another interesting discussion on important issues affecting our everyday lives.