Improving the frequency and quality of conversations that take place inside your organization is one of the best ways to improve the overall quality of your company’s leadership. That’s the message Ken Blanchard and Scott Blanchard share in their latest column for Training Industry Magazine. With the speed of work, the generational and cultural diversity of the global workforce, and the variety of day-to-day challenges leaders face, the ability to communicate effectively with direct reports may be the defining skill that sets great leaders apart.
And while managers never intend to have unproductive conversations, bad conversational habits can often get in the way of effective communication. Here are three they recommend that leaders keep an eye on:
Intentionality lapses. Leaders sometimes plunge ahead in an inappropriate setting with negative consequences. For example, you bump into a direct report who has a question, and before you realize it the dialogue touches on topics that are potentially sensitive, emotional, or confrontational. Instead of plunging forward immediately, consider quietly framing the issue in the present and planning a time and place to continue the talk later in the future when it is more appropriate.
Not staying focused on the topic at hand. As a rule, leaders should focus on one subject at a time—especially when a conversation is about feedback or necessary behavior change. Managers need to know how to skillfully address one topic, and if another topic comes up that threatens to derail the first, to stop and say, “That’s a separate conversation.” You needn’t be dismissive when the other person gets off track, however; just let them know they’ll need to take up the separate issue with you at a different time.
Poor listening or an inability to find common ground. When leaders don’t listen well or are unable to reach a shared understanding, they tend to focus on only their side of the conversation. A tell-tale symptom of this bad habit is when managers repeat themselves. Instead of listening and seeking common ground, they say things like, “Like I said before…” or, “As I was saying…” Poor communicators tend to fall into this habit and it cuts off the conversation. A successful work conversation involves listening intently and carefully—a big part of being a great conversationalist is being an exceptional listener.
Leadership as a Conversation
As Ken Blanchard and Scott Blanchard explain, “Leadership is an influence process. Progressive managers build strong relationships with their people through the quality and frequency of their conversations.”
Are your conversations with your direct reports as useful as they could be? Or are bad habits keeping you from being the communicator you want to be? Take a second look at your intentionality, focus, and listening skills. With a little work in these three areas, you’ll make great strides toward becoming an excellent communicator and leader.