Man helping a climber

Excellent communication skills are vitally important to highly effective leadership. The ability to communicate with confidence, clarity and emotional intelligence is our strongest leverage in such a competitive world.

Please don’t make the mistake of buying into the idea that to be a leader you have to have people working for you. That’s one type of leader of course but the truth is every spoken word is an opportunity to lead regardless of our position.

If you pause for a moment to consider the types of conversations you have every day, it’s quite likely that many will revolve around you influencing or persuading others to see things from your perspective. Each time you speak, the words you choose and the way you express them determine the quality of the connection you make with others.

How to lead each time you speak

  • Focus on impact

Before you utter a word, be mindful of the other person’s feelings and consider carefully how your words will affect them. Even if you don’t agree with them, imagine how you would feel and respond in their position. In light of the way other people may feel you may want to change the way you express yourself to ensure your words have the desired impact.

  • Don’t let negativity go unchallenged

If you’re in a conversation with someone who is complaining and moaning, yet you can see that it’s not all that bad, then tell them. Don’t take the easy route by letting them wallow in negativity or self-pity. Help reframe things for them. Don’t stoke the fire by just agreeing with them.

  • Help them to see the future

One of the most memorable and influential things a former leader once told me was that ‘The only people who need to be motivated are the people who can’t see the future’. Help people to see the future, share a vision or help them to create one of their own. Use words that will guide them to see things more clearly, optimistically and to leave with a sense of hope.

  • Get to the point quickly

If you ever have to deliver bad news or tell someone something they may not particularly want to hear, be respectful and tell them what they need to know as kindly as you can but quickly too. Keep it simple and straightforward and remember they won’t thank you for not speaking the truth.

Going around the houses before making your point is disrespectful and they won’t thank you for it.

  • Listen to what’s not being said

I’ve long held a personal belief that most people don’t really listen; I believe they wait to speak instead.

Practice empathic listening. That means listening closely from the other person’s perspective by putting yourself in their shoes. Don’t just focus on their words; be aware of their body language too. What are their eyes telling you? How are they sitting or moving?

Be still, quiet and open. Listen for any emotional clues that suggest there may be something else going on that isn’t being said.

  • Look for opinions

It’s hard to imagine anything worse in communication skills than a closed mind. A mind which is firmly unreceptive to other perspectives, ideas and arguments only serves to turn people away. Showing the courage and willingness to at least consider and explore the views of others is a leadership quality that is always worth pursuing. Don’t just wait for those views to come to you. Go out of your way to find them.

  • Give them substance

We have all met people who talk a great talk. When you stop to carefully consider what value they added to the conversation it’s often troubling to realise that didn’t really know what they were talking about. Don’t just jump in at the first chance to speak, think carefully about what you know about the topic rather than simply having something to say. Go for substance rather than impressing.

Don’t believe the misunderstanding that the way you speak is more important than what you say. You will be judged on both.

  • Set a positive intention

If you start every conversation with a mind set and intention of seeing how helpful you can be, you’re likely to have a far more productive and enjoyable conversation. Showing that you care and want to help will always serve you well. Don’t wait to see how the conversation develops. Hold firm your intention and think like a leader.

  • Listen to yourself too

We all have that inner voice that is always talking to us even when we are speaking with others. It’s that familiar monologue that isn’t always helpful despite our intent to be helpful. Self – awareness when we speak is a critical attribute of successful leadership; listen to that voice and be aware of the impact it is having on the way you feel and how you respond to it.

If you find your internal voice hindering rather than helping you, then tell yourself that’s the case and have the courage to silence it.

  • Keep it real

Whilst being polite and respectful, make sure you express what you truly think. Be prepared to be vulnerable to ensure that you respect and value yourself as well as others. Don’t supress what you really think only to walk away and regret it for days.

Being objective, getting to the point and speaking with substance is always valued.

Remember, you don’t have to be running a business, managing a team or sitting on the board. Every conversation is an opportunity to lead. Choose and use your words wisely.

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