What does “communication” actually mean?

Tech graphic in shades of blue of two human heads with wavy transmission lines between their foreheads.Everyone agrees that leaders need to communicate.

But what does that actually mean?

Most people learn to talk and express what they want and what they’re thinking as young children. They learn in school to answer questions, and to write essays and papers.

And then we get into the workplace and we believe communication will “just happen.”

But does it, really? And when someone becomes a manager and a leader, are the essential aspects of communication – talking, making requests, expressing thoughts, giving feedback, writing, and so on – being done skillfully or, let’s face it, at all?

Well, talking is probably being done. But the rest of it? Maybe not.

Let’s break down some important aspects of communication.

Making requests

One of the necessary functions of management and leadership is delegation: assigning tasks, making requests.

Knowing how to delegate effectively means the likelihood of the task being done correctly and well are exponentially higher. If you’re frustrated because team members aren’t doing what you wanted them to do, it might be because you’re not communicating well.

Check out this article and then this one for specifics on how to make a request that achieves what you want.

I’d add one more thing to the three listed in the first article: as a final step, confirm that they know what you’ve asked for and that they have the resources they need to be successful.

Giving feedback

To be effective, feedback needs to be specific and in the moment, not just once a year in a performance review. (Fortunately, more and more organizations are recognizing that the annual performance review isn’t effective!)

And feedback needs to be both positive as well as corrective.

Here’s a link to an article on how to say “thank you” in a way that truly means something to the recipient – and a video plus another article on giving corrective, a.k.a. negative, feedback.

Communicating change

This is a huge topic, which goes well beyond what I can cover in any depth here, even with links to other articles.

I’ll state one essential: OVER-communicate. Especially if you’re part of the team that decided upon and defined the change initiative. By the time it comes to communicate about it, you’ve been steeped in it, know it inside and out, and are slightly bored by the whole thing. But others, the people who need to participate in and implement the change, don’t know anywhere near as much, and are probably at least a little anxious about what’s coming.

People are different and learn in different ways. People are out sick or on vacation. People don’t hear the first message, or the second, or third… or…

Communicate change – the “why,” the impact on the future of the company and on the people, and the impact if it’s not completed – until you’re blue in the face and think everyone must be tired of hearing from you – and by then, you may have gotten your point across. And if you have a corporate communication team, involve them right from the start and get their guidance. There’s more in this article.

Of course there are many other aspects to change leadership, some of which I discuss here and in this video.

Professional empathy

Communication only works when you undertake it from a perspective of understanding.

Understand who your people are as unique individuals, what’s meaningful for them, how they prefer to communicate.

Please note that the heading for this section is professional empathy. This isn’t about becoming their BFF; it’s about recognizing that each person working for and with you is an individual with their own ways of being and reacting. And the more you understand that, and them, the more influence you’ll have and the better your communication with them will be.