No matter how short or long you’ve been “the boss,” communication will always be your most challenging aspect of the job. You’ll go through recurring phases of focusing on direction, feedback, motivation, correspondence, and more. (That is, if you’re worth your salt as a leader… You’ll be bettering your leadership skills daily.) Communications are always tricky. If I learned nothing else from Daniel Goleman’s Working with Emotional Intelligence, it’s that we need to focus on communication and that communication will always be different for the situation, person, and medium.
Don’t Forget that You’re the Boss
As the boss, it’s all too easy to forget the weight that comes with that. The longer you are the boss, the more difficult it is. Ironically, it becomes even more difficult to be self-aware of yourself as “the boss” the closer your office culture gets to either end of the good/bad spectrum. You’re either too friendly with your employees, or you’re too disconnected from them.
Finally, the higher up the ladder you are as the boss, this issue becomes more and more transparent to you. No one else in your company will forget it though. Like the leader of any country, every single time you say even a single word in any medium, it carries the full weight of your office. People that work for you will treat it as such. As Scott Elser so eloquently said in his Inc.com article, “sometimes you’re the problem.”
Elser did a great job of pointing out the most common things that happen when you talk to your team, such as when you make a seemingly small request or off-hand comment, you just unwittingly sent one or many people into a fire drill to “fix the problem.” This branched out to being able to properly communicate what you’re thinking so that your team knows what they’re expected to be doing – essentially getting rid of uncertainty and doubt.
If you haven’t read Elser’s article yet, you really should. It’s a must-read for any leader and it’ll take you less than 5 minutes.
If there was ever a cardinal sin that a leader could be guilty of, it’s brevity. Honestly, anyone that finds themselves to be busy will be guilty of this as well. Now I am not talking about the kind of brevity that keeps you from blabbering on for 20 minutes when 5 would do. I’m talking about the phrase-based or 1-sentence responses you might given. Like with everything, as a leader, you need to know, learn, and practice balance.
“Respect is how to treat everyone, not just those you want to impress.”
Sir Richard Branson
Investor, Founder of Virgin Group
If you’re speaking to someone face-to-face, brevity can sometimes be okay – but it requires that you have a strong working relationship and history with the person or persons you’re talking to. If anyone within earshot doesn’t fit that profile, then you’re doing yourself a major disservice. You’ve just come across as an unemotional robot that doesn’t care about the people working for you.
This is somewhat easy to fix when you’re in front of a group in a closed room. You’ll more than likely read the body language in the room and adjust accordingly. Outside of the conference room though, you never know who can hear you, even when their headsets are on. When you do this over a written medium, like email, you’ve just committed the cardinal sin regardless to who you’re writing to. You never know when that email will get forwarded either intentionally or accidentally. This is essentially the equivalent of people hearing through walls or headsets.
An example of this can be found in a casual walk through the office or short reply to an email. Someone on your team asks for approval for an idea they have. Since you’re the boss, they probably spent a great deal of time preparing to communicate this idea. This also involved emotion and anticipation of your response. If you spend seconds considering the idea and/or simply send a single sentence reply, you’ve essentially crushed them.
“She didn’t even consider the information I gave her.”
“I spent hours going over this, and she didn’t even take the time to go through it.”
“I can’t believe that she didn’t understand what I sent her.”
“I’m never going to put that much effort into anything again, if that’s the kind of response she’s going to give me.”
I think you get the idea. Brevity not only makes it sound or feel like you don’t care or are unemotional towards your team, but it also can lead people to conclusions that otherwise wouldn’t be made. Conclusions that in nearly all cases are untrue. Right?
That isn’t even the worst part of this issue…
Brevity Becomes Customer Service
The people that work for you tend to follow their leader. Your style of brevity will be emulated by your team. It will become part of your culture – even and especially if you say otherwise. This will begin by them speaking this way to each other and other departments in your company. However, the inevitable will happen. This kind of brevity will leak itself out into communications with your customers. If there’s anything that make customers stir anxiously and question their trust in a company they’re doing business with, it’s communications that lack the pleasantries and context that they would otherwise expect.
If this isn’t how you’d speak to your customers, it isn’t how you should be speaking to the people that report to you.
This article is cross-posted from my personal blog.