Frustrated over his team’s failure to complete an assignment, Pat the CEO called a “special” meeting with his direct reports. He sent one email announcing nothing but the date, time, and venue. Because the meeting was not at their regular Monday morning time as expected, you can imagine the stories/gossip that ensued.
What precipitated this meeting?
Pat discovered several direct reports had not completed the assignments he’d given them on Friday to produce documents for conversations Pat had scheduled with several prospects on Monday. So when the agreed-to deadline came and went, Pat emailed his team: “Where are the proposals? Can no one around here do things on time? Am I the only competent one?”
As it turns out, Pat did not make his original request to his direct reports. He asked the next level down, and those fielding his requests weren’t sure what to do. Should they tell their supervisors, or did the CEO want to deal with them directly? None of them had ever received “orders” direct from Pat before, so instead of asking whether they should involve their supervisors, they kept quiet, fearful they might look incompetent.
By going around his direct reports, Pat turned the assignment into a hit-or-miss proposition. Was that his intention? Did he ever wonder if the manner of his request might be misinterpreted or that his out-of-character approach might doom the project from the start?
So when Pat’s terse email announcement came out, is it any wonder his people reacted with “Oh crap, what did I do wrong?” and “What ‘special’ project? How much more work will I have now?”
What a mess! Can you say business as usual?
Leaders create “fear” via two major inputs: “possible change” and “the unknown.” These two ingredients often distract and derail individuals from thinking and performing their best until the “change” and the “unknown” are resolved in their minds to their satisfaction.
As a leader you influence people in ways you cannot imagine. That’s why clear communication—even “over” communication—is so critical. Employees cannot read your mind. They don’t know your intentions, what you want, or what you don’t want. The absence of clear communication leaves room for them to conjure all sorts of stuff in their brains. And trust me, as the only species on the planet that rationalizes and justifies its existence, we will “conjure” ever so freely whenever we feel threatened.
Communication Points to Remember
- When delivering new messages, we typically communicate it only once.
- People “hear” roughly 25% of any message and mainly only what’s relevant to them. The other 75% of their brains is concerned with who’s sending the message, its timing, current workloads, deadlines, and personal matters.
- As leader, you have the final say. Realize then that lower level employees will hesitate to ask questions when they don’t understand and fail to push-back when they disagree with superiors.
Remedies to Ensure Clear and Effective Communication
- Prepare for all communications. Everything that comes from your mouth or fingers must be intentional. People will hold on to your every word. This is your great responsibility. Everything you say can and will be used against you.
- Prepare your message for how intended recipients are wired to “hear” it.Audience: Detail oriented, risk averse
Preparation: Provide as much information as possible so recipients feel comfortable they can/will do a good job. Overdo the amount of information. This audience can never have enough.Audience: Big picture, non-detail oriented
Preparation: Plan to tell this audience your message many times over. They require constant follow-up to ensure they heard it and are responding appropriately.
Audience: Conflict avoiders
Preparation: Fully disclose the who, what, when, where, why, and how to eliminate the risk of this audience being “wrong,” being surprised, or feeling challenged. They tend to welcome direction and want to know you will be pleased when they complete the assignment.
Audience: Assertive, opinionated
Preparation: Ask for feedback, questions, and opinions before this audience leaves your presence. Once they’re in their offices, it’s “their way or the highway.”
There’s no such thing as casual conversation when you’re the leader. Your every word is scrutinized. Therefore, clear, intentional communication with everything you say, write, or text is a prerequisite for achieving desired levels of success.
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