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 are taking on a new management role or need to improve your authority with existing staff, making small changes to the way you communicate with your team can reap great rewards.
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: effective communication is at the heart of strong leadership.
Here, we’ve shared 4 tips to help you on your journey to be an amazing workplace communicator and earn the respect of your team.
1. Communicate with confidence
It’s all very well being the resident genius, but if you can’t get your point across properly or clearly, then your smarts don’t count for anything. Your insecurity over your inability to communicate can also be a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you think you’re boring or that you’re a poor communicator, that’s what you’re going to project to your team and colleagues. This is a sure-fire way for them to switch off and makes it much harder to gain the respect you seek. Your first task is to acknowledge this and accept that you have the power to think differently - starting now.
Communication is all about building connections, so if you feel that people switch off when you’re talking or don’t listen to what you’re saying, then you need to work on building rapport with your colleagues. Key to this is being able to communicate with confidence. Sure, there are some people who are naturally gifted when it comes to conversing with others. But just like so many business competences, it’s a skill that can be learned and improved. Here are some simple and effective ways to make sure you get your message across and sound more interesting.
- Prepare what you’re going to say in advance whenever possible. If it's for a meeting or presentation, focus on 4-5 key points that you want to impart to your listeners. Write them down, so you’re clear on the message you want to convey. This can be the difference between waffling or giving far too much information so that you bore everyone to death, and speaking clearly and succinctly, amazing your team with your new-found focus. If you can’t prepare or it’s the spur of the moment conversations that floor you, work on some of the tips below to give you time to think and ensure you’re looking less like a rabbit caught in the headlights and more like the leader you aspire to be.
- Word power – Give emphasis and energy to the words you deem important. You can do this by using pauses, elongating vowels and structuring your words so that the impact is at the end of each sentence. We use the analogy of a vocal landscape – if you have a monotone voice and speak without pauses or varying up your tone of voice, it’s the equivalent of your listeners looking at a grey, dull landscape. You’ll bore your team and their attention will stray. If you use emphasis, pauses, inflection and tone, you will sound more interesting and your listeners will have less work to do to build up the picture or landscape in their head. You can vary the speed at which you talk, but make sure it's a pace that allows your team to consider what you're saying and keep up with you. Also make sure your voice is firm, clear and full of energy. Not energy that flies everywhere, but contained, dynamic and focused energy.
- Your nonverbal behaviour. Just as what you say is important, so are your nonverbal cues. Your facial expressions and the gestures you use can convey your passion and really make your team sit up and take notice. Have a positive, open posture rather than hunching yourself up and you’ll not only appear more confident, but you may also feel more confident. This will help you to speak as the authority on a subject. Take a moment after an important point to connect with your audience so that they feel that you are really talking to them and that you care what they think.
2. Be direct - don't beat around the bush
Again, if you don’t have confidence in yourself or your communication skills, you could be sabotaging your authority just by the way you delegate or give tasks to your team. This isn’t unusual. Many of us pose questions instead of making direct requests. Or we skirt around an uncomfortable request, trying to dress it up with niceties, and inadvertently put in the vagueness and opportunities to say no that actually assist people in getting out of it . Questions or euphemisms can seem less confrontational and make us feel more comfortable. However, not only does this sort of question-come-instruction make you seem less authoritative and assertive, it can be disempowering for your team, too.
You: “Harminder, I know are you very busy at the moment - do you have any spare time to put together a deck for our presentation on Monday? ”
The example above is kind and friendly, but it is presenting a ‘get out’ within the request. All Harminder has to say is "sorry no, I don't have any spare time" and that's it. The ‘kind’ boss might as well have said ‘ I have no expectation that you will do this for me!’
If we rephrased the example above as a statement, followed by a much clearer and more dynamic question, we’d likely see a very different result:
You: “Harminder, I need a deck for our presentation on Monday. Would you put it together for me, please.”
The first, framed in the negative, provides Harminder with her excuse, and invites an inevitable negative response. The second, phrased as a statement, followed by a direct question, leaves less room for this, and will show you to be direct and succinct, two traits that are highly respected in leaders.
A statement also conveys the right tone – that you need this piece of work to be done. Make sure your voice goes down at the end of the sentence – even if it’s a question. This is what we call downward inflection or vocal gravity, rather than going up (as it does generally when you ask a question).
Also, be specific in your requests. Asking a question after the initial statement, for example, “Can you do this?” can be very powerful. If they nod or say yes, they’ve committed to it, so are more likely to actually complete it. If they say no, you can follow up with a question of when they can do it or ask why they can’t. If it’s a case of priorities, these may be able to be rearranged.
Lastly, get into the habit of confirming your requests in writing. That way there’s no room for confusion – and it makes sure everyone is clear on the overall objective and when the work needs to be completed by.
3. Focus on being a leader, not a friend
This point follows on from the last: being a good leader is not the same as trying to be a good friend. The people you manage do not need you to be their friend, they want you to give them clear direction. Read our tips on how to unlock your team's potential.
Behave like you are the manager, allowing this to be reflected in your body language and tone. Believe in what you say, and hold yourself with a sense of poise and be confident in your position of authority. Don’t allow your shoulders to slump, keep them back, but relaxed. Keep your head straight. Create and maintain eye contact, don’t talk with your eyes cast down. If your posture is open and at ease, you will project confidence.
Don’t be apologetic. The word ‘sorry’ is sorely overused, and it sends the message that you don’t have authority in the situation. Only apologise for your actions or for the impact they have on someone’s feelings – not because you’re asking them to do a piece of work.
As a leader, it is your job to give your team what they need to carry out the tasks you ask of them. Sometimes this can mean being tougher than you 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, having authority doesn’t mean having to be mean. They will respect you more if you are able to be honest in a constructive, non-aggressive way.
4. Be a great listener
While you don’t need to be their friend, it is important in the long term that you connect with the people you’re working with. This will help them to trust you as a person and as their leader. One important way to build connection is through being prepared to listen and empathise.
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. Make whoever you are speaking to feel important – not by giving compliments, but by listening with genuine interest.
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. Make sure you show your team when you are engaged and actively listening. 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.
Take one of these tools and try and work at it for a week or so. This isn’t about completely transforming your communication overnight. But small iterative changes will change the way you respond to your team and, in turn, how they respond to you. Bit by bit, you’ll notice, almost imperceptibly, that there is a different level of respect functioning at all levels of your team. Good luck!