Leadership Traps: Communication Without Communicating

March 21, 2011 by
Filed under: Leadership, Relationships 


Depending upon where you’re from, or what generation you are part of, your view of what a leader should and should not be will vary. There are those who say changing times call for changes in leadership styles. While that may be true for some areas of leadership, many basic characteristics of leadership still hold true today as they did back with previous generations.

A crucial area that has not changed is the ability to communicate.  Communication has added new tools to its repertoire over the last couple of decades (such as email and instant messaging), but time tested communication methods are still needed today. To substitute these time tested communication methods with email and/or instant messaging would be to ask your team and peers to begin alienating themselves from you. Why do I say such a blanket statement like that about using email and instant messaging? Because in a fast paced world, full of so many electronic communication methods, being able to communicate face-to-face is becoming rarer and more valuable than ever.

An Epiphany at Work!

A good friend of mine was recently working as a director for a large international firm in charge of putting together a brand new organization for the company. Unfortunately, she chose to leave that firm just after 7 months. Why? There were many reasons as it turns out. But what’s interesting is that most of those problems stemmed from the leadership trap of “communication without communicating”. Her boss and her were simply not meeting eye to eye on many things and consistently misunderstanding each other. Believing they were sharing clear concise information but in fact not understanding what the other one was intending to communicate. This leadership trap is probably one of the main ingredients in a “recipe for failure” and that recipe was cooking over the six to seven months she was at the firm.

For the first three to four months, things appeared to be going very well. At the end of the fourth month, however, she discovered that her boss was not happy with the way things were going. What made it more of a surprise was that she and her boss were having weekly one-on-ones since she started her new role. During these weekly sessions, the verbal feedback was a positive one. To add additional interest to this story, she discovered how her boss felt not from her boss but while meeting with an HR representative (that she met with on a periodic basis to discuss team development goals). Her boss never communicated to her that there were any issues or concerns during their one-on-one weekly meetings. She confronted her boss at their next one on one and heard a similar tone as before. Yes, there were some things that her boss was not happy about. They decided to discuss this further during the meeting and eventually an understanding was apparently reached. Three months later, my friend chose to leave rather than continue working at that firm because all she heard from the HR representative was that her boss was still not happy with any of her work. She said she never got this message from her boss. When I asked her why she decided to leave, she told me that it simply wasn’t a good fit.

My friend and her boss were not communicating well with each other. Both she and her boss were high enough in their careers to know how they should and shouldn’t communicate. But regardless, a communication breakdown occurred between two people who should not have had one occur. Even though they were meeting on a weekly basis, they were really “communicating without communicating”.   

Looking back on the entire scenario, my friend told me there were things that both her and her boss should have done. Her boss wasn’t being upfront with his subordinate about his concerns and my friend was not asking her boss the correct questions she should’ve asked (in order to ensure that she and her boss were on the same page about how things were going). She can’t change the past, but today she is the wiser for what occurred.

Have you ever been in a scenario where you wish your boss was communicating more with you? Is so, understand one thing, you can’t always control how your boss acts, but you can always control the way you act. My friend had this opportunity at her recent position, and even though her boss may not have been the best communicator with her, she as the subordinate needed to make sure that she did everything possible to ensure that her and her boss were at the very least seeing eye-to-eye on things. This may not have guaranteed a working relationship for my friend between her and her boss (since other mitigating circumstances may have been occurring in the background unbeknownst to her), but it would have helped put the odds a little more in her favor.

Good Communication is Crucial

According to John Maxwell, in his book “21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader”, communication is one of the indispensable qualities a leader must have. It’s actually in the top five in his book:

  • “Communicators take something complicated and make it simple.”Leaders must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiasm to others.
  • Communication is not just what you say. It’s also how you say it. The key to effective communication is simplicity.
  • Speeches = Exciting opening, dramatic summary, as close together as possible.
  • To become a better communicator, become audience-oriented. People believe in great communicators because great communicators believe in people.
  • First, believe in what you say. Second, live what you say.
  • As you communicate, never forget that the goal of communication is action.

Some More Things to Think About

I have to admit that I am a big fan of many blog articles out there.  There are quite a few, especially on the subject of communication and its impact on leadership. Below is a list of some of my favorites from the HBR (Harvard Business Review) Blog Network. Many people are not aware of the HBR Blog Network and so I wanted to share it with my readers here. For those who wish they could read the Harvard Business Review, the HBR Blog Network is made up of many of the same writers who write and comment within the HBR publication. The nice thing here is that, as with all blogs, these thought provoking articles are free…Enjoy!

· Eight Communication Traps that Foil Innovation

· Listening Is Critical in Today’s Multicultural Workplace

· How to Interject in a Meeting

· How to Influence Decision Makers

· Why Some Teams Succeed (and So Many Don’t)

· To Make a Strong Case, Don’t Be a Data Dumper

· Learn to Ask Better Questions

· How to Handle Silence, the Worst Kind of Feedback

· “Don’t Bring Me Problems—Bring Me Solutions!”

· Why It’s Better to Be Smart and Wrong than Just Silent

· Three Questions to Remove Ego from Decision Making

· Four Ways Leaders Can Stay on Top of the Issues

· Redeeming Yourself After a Leadership Disaster  

What has been your experience in the past with people who believe they are communicating but who in fact aren’t? What advice would you have for them today? Do you see yourself as a person who communicates well or who may need a jumpstart on communication 101?

Share your thoughts! We’d love to know them here!…Cheers!

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