Respect, it is said, is earned and not given. For many of us, being respected as a leader or colleague is hard-won and, in the early stages of a professional relationship, it can seem like a bit of an uphill struggle. Whether you’ve been newly promoted from inside an organisation or are taking on a management role in a new company, your new role as leader presents some challenges but, importantly, exciting opportunities where communication is concerned.
A quick survey of online articles listing the traits of poor leaders shows that most articles are in agreement. Whether it’s a lack of transparency, an inability to listen, or a lack of empathy, there’s no doubt that when there’s a leadership problem, there’s almost always a communication problem at the root. In turn it’s clear there is a consensus: good communication is at the heart of strong leadership.
Here, we’ve shared 3 insights from The Serlin Method™ that will help you start on the journey to becoming an amazing workplace communicator.
1. Be Direct
In the cult 1999 film ‘Office Space’, Gary Cole plays a caricature of a corporate manager, Bill Lumbergh, whose constant unreasonable requests are couched in euphemism and delivered in a patronising, mock-friendly drawl: “I’m gonna need you to come in tomorrow, and if you can come in on Sunday too…that’d be greeeeeat”.
This isn’t unusual. Many of us rely on posing questions instead of direct requests, or skirt around an uncomfortable request, trying to dress it up with niceties. It’s natural, as questions or euphemisms can seem less confrontational and make us feel comfortable. However, not only does this sort of question-come-instruction make you seem less authoritative and assertive; posing a question can be disempowering for your team, too.
You: “Harminder, would you mind putting together the deck for our presentation on Monday?”
If we rephrased the example above as a statement, rather than a question, we’d likely see a very different result:
You: “Harminder, I need you to put together the deck for our presentation on Monday, please.”
The first, phrased as question, invites a negative response. The second, phrased as a statement, leaves less room for this, and will show you to be direct and assertive, two traits that are highly respected in leaders.
Leadership Not Friendship
This point follows on from the first: being a good leader is not the same as trying to be a good friend. The people you are leading do not want a friend, they want someone with clear direction, who they trust can take them on the particular journey competently and even excellently. It is your job to give them what they need to feel secure in that journey, and sometimes that means being tougher than you might feel comfortable with. This never means aggression - that will not lead to respect, but it may mean saying tough things to someone in your team, for example when the quality of their work isn’t good enough. While it is difficult, being able to be honest in a constructive, non-aggressive way can also feel like an exciting challenge for the person being spoken to, as they re being told that more is expected from them.
Be a Great Listener
It is important longer-term, that you create a connection with the people you’re working with, which will help them to to trust you as a person and as a leader. And one important way to build connection is through being prepared to listen. Everyone has a voice, and it is important that your team feel that you acknowledge and respect their voice, ideas and opinions. There are two types of bad leader: the one who can’t make a decision and asks everyone else for their opinion, and the one who bulldozes in with their own opinion and refuses to let anyone else have a say. The bulldozing leader clearly has a listening issue, and as such they may find their team are disengaged, as when someone feels their voice doesn’t matter they start to switch off or emotionally remove themselves from the situation.
You can counter this by taking time to consciously and actively listen to your team. If you feel that you are not a great listener, try to have some slots in a day or week which are set aside for listening. At the beginning or the end of a team meeting, for example. When you are properly listening, make sure you let your body show them you are engaged, little things like open body language, eye contact and head nods can go a long way to making someone talking feel like you want them to speak. It’s easy to do this, and can be a powerful way of making your team feel heard and understood. This in turn will help build that mutual trust and respect between you.