It’s a crazy time. However, we’ve seen throughout this pandemic, some amazing leaders who have done an effective job in communication. Politics aside, one thing that’s clear is great communication is the hallmark of good leaders. As organizational leaders, we can learn some key lessons and use them to move forward with our teams and improve our ability to communicate change.
We often struggle with communicating and implementing change within companies, and frequently we couch our message, minimize the information shared, or simply communicate the change as an “immovable object” that we just have to deal with. However, we can do better.
I say this because my mother is a New Yorker. She was born in Brooklyn. Even though she is relocated to the midwest, her communication style is still very “east coast”. It’s a unique style, that some may find harsh and blunt. But there are a few distinct elements that are excellent traits every leader should consider utilizing:
1) Base your communication on logic. Many leaders have to make tough decisions with limited information. Explain the decision and what logic was used to get there. Even more importantly, share your thought process in order on how you got to your conclusion.
2) Repeat with consistency. And repeat again. And again. Just because you are a leader and you shared a message with your team, doesn’t mean it sunk in. It’s critical to repeat the message consistently and as often as possible. If you feel it’s been repeated enough, repeat it again.
3) Admit what you don’t know, defer to those that do. Just because you are in charge, doesn’t mean you have all the answers to every detail. Show your deference to your expert colleagues and let them shine in their strength areas. It also shows that you have confidence and believe in them.
4) Put information in the context of who’s receiving it. It’s not about you. Frame your communication in a way that your audience can understand from their perspective and point of view. You’re trying to get them to understand something new, so it has to relate to their situation and circumstances.
5) Be transparent, but make it simple to digest. Explain complicated things in simple terms and use analogies that everyone can understand. You don’t have to share all the dirty details, but let people have all the information they need to truly “get it”.
6) Be decisive, with support from data. It’s not about waffling or turning to where the wind blows. Committing to your decisions as a leader is critical – but not without explaining and sharing what information and data you used to get to that decision.
7) Use simple visuals and relatable analogies. Don’t lean on a long PPT or just verbal content – use simple bar charts, pie graphs, or whatever you need to help visually articulate the message. People digest information in different ways, so it’s also helpful to weave in stories, analogies, and real-world examples to help illustrate your message.
8) Clearly separate facts from your opinions. While as leaders we have to communicate information, there’s a difference between what is and how we individually feel about the decision, message, or the change itself. You don’t have to avoid sharing your personal opinions, but do it clearly. State that it is your opinion, separate from the facts, and make sure you don’t let your opinions undermine the message or your credibility.
9) Be genuine, relatable, and candid. They say honesty is the best policy. This is also true when communicating change. Share your vulnerabilities. Deliver the message in your own personal style. Be humorous where appropriate. In short, be human. People relate to other people, and it’s a great way to build trust.
10) Be upfront about both good news and bad. We all want to try to boost the good news and minimize the bad. However, we also know that squelching the bad news doesn’t eliminate it from still being common knowledge throughout the organization. Be upfront about the bad news. Admit the reality of the situation. But then be clear about what’s being done about it, and what to expect next. Take control by owning the bad and the good.
This approach isn’t exclusive to New Yorkers, nor is it only an east coast trait. But many of us tend to try to soften the message to avoid conflict and push back. Be more like a New Yorker and get your message out in a way that’s not only effective but helps support and drive change through your organization. You’ll be better off for it.
About the Author
Andrea Olson is a speaker, author, behavioral economics and customer-centricity expert. As the CEO of Pragmadik, she helps organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500, and has served as an outside consultant for EY and McKinsey. Andrea is the author of The Customer Mission: Why it’s time to cut the $*&% and get back to the business of understanding customers and No Disruptions: The future for mid-market manufacturing.
She is a 4-time ADDY® award winner and host of the popular Customer Mission podcast. Her thoughts have been featured in news sources such as Chief Executive Magazine, Customer Experience Magazine, Industry Week, and more. Andrea is a sought-after keynote speaker at conferences and corporate events throughout the world. She is a visiting lecturer at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, a TEDx presenter and TEDx speaker coach. She is also a mentor at the University of Iowa Venture School.