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Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King—few would argue these were great leaders. They were also great communicators. They were bold, courageous, and inspiring in moments of extreme turmoil, and their words turned the tides of history.

As a leader, you may not be expected to encourage an entire country or motivate a movement, but your team depends on you for direction, purpose, and cultural cues. When you consider that most Americans spend a third of their lifetime in the workplace, you can begin to appreciate your influence.

Your words matter, not just the words you chose but how you use them. Team leaders recognize intentional communication as a responsibility, and they realize the tremendous weight it carries.

Leaders can improve their communication skills and facilitate more collaborative, productive work environments when they:

  • Identify their own communication styles
  • Identify how they prefer others communicate with them
  • Understand their team members’ type of communication
  • Understand how their team members’ prefer others communicate with them

Recognizing and respecting others’ personalities and preferences can help ensure that employees understand expectations and are receptive to feedback.

On a more tactical level, effective communicators should consider three things when communicating with their team: choosing the right words, keeping their emotions in check, and delivering clear direction.

#1: Choose Your Words Carefully

Careful communication can help establish trust and a sense of psychological safety. That, in turn, contributes to a healthy team culture that can profoundly impact the team’s dynamic and an employee’s overall well-being.

Leaders who encourage expression and respectful communication help foster trust and create an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns without fear of judgment. On the other hand, leaders who operate under a shroud of secrecy, allow conflicts to fester, engage in poor communication skills, or throw insensitive barbs can erode trust and contribute to an eventual breakdown in collaboration and productivity.

Sensitivity is not every leader’s strong suit. In fact, a more matter-of-fact, no-nonsense approach to business is frequently what earns someone a leadership role. And when teams are at an impasse and decisiveness is needed, a leader’s straightforward language is appropriate and often appreciated.

But communication styles aren’t one size fits all. Ensuring a message is heard and understood requires recognizing what the circumstance calls for and the discipline to resist blurting out the first words that come to mind–which sometimes calls for more sensitivity.

Most of us prefer sensitivity when being spoken to, especially when the topic of discussion is personal in nature. Word choice, along with tone and connotation, influences how messages are perceived and acted upon, so leaders would be wise to be more sensitive when giving feedback, conducting a performance review, or dealing with a disciplinary matter.

But just because most of us prefer this style, does not mean every one of your team members does.

Just as great communicators consider their audience and the appropriate message for the moment, effective leaders consider the needs of the person they speak to and the situation at hand. By prioritizing sensitivity and carefully selecting words, leaders create a positive and supportive atmosphere that empowers team members to contribute their best and foster a culture of trust.

#2: Keep Emotions in Check

We’ve all seen people get promoted to management positions because they are successful in their job—a top-earning salesperson is often chosen to oversee the sales team—but being good at one aspect of the job doesn’t always mean someone will be equally good at managing others or that they will even enjoy that role.

Strong managers have to do more than just model successful behaviors. Workers look to their superiors for motivation, mentorship, and emotional support. Communication is key in all areas of leadership, and a leader’s unique communication style can have a significant impact.

At times, there is room for expressing emotion and exhibiting passion in the workplace. An ability to convey enthusiasm and offer encouragement boosts employee morale when the team faces challenges. And a willingness to show vulnerability builds a foundation of trust and makes leaders more approachable. It is important, though, that more expressive communicators keep their emotions in check. Employees are likely to shut down and disengage if they exhibit frequent frustration or bursts of anger.

Some leaders have a more practical communication style, employing fact-based objectivity and honest feedback to address issues. This practicality allows efficient problem-solving unclouded by emotion and proves invaluable in a crisis.

However, leaders should not expect the same matter-of-fact style from every team member. Some may need to feel heard and require a psychologically safe space to discuss their feelings and express their emotions with an active listeningleader.

When leaders appreciate their own communication style and those on their team, they can channel emotions and harness the strengths of both expressiveness and practicality. By striking a healthy balance between the two, mindful leaders foster a dynamic work environment where team members feel respected, valued, and motivated to achieve.

#3: Deliver Clear Direction

Good leaders are skilled at setting direction and mapping out a course. Great leaders can clearly articulate a strategy, align their team to a purpose, and ignite momentum behind a plan to meet organizational goals.

This is no easy feat when you consider that not every team member responds to direction in the same way. Some employees are self-directed. Some direct reports thrive with little structure and minimal guidance. Just give them the vision, point them in a general direction, and they are good to go.

Other employees require more clarity. They require step-by-step instructions for how to proceed and want to check in regularly to make sure they are on the right path.

To determine the degree of direction team members prefer, leaders should ask employees if they have the information they need to proceed and if they feel adequately prepared. Keep in mind for this exchange to be productive, workers must feel safe acknowledging what they don’t understand, voicing questions, and seeking guidance along the way. Creating this environment is up to you as a business leader.

Defining specific roles and responsibilities, setting clear targets, and establishing checkpoints can help both leaders and team members stay the course. Leaders who consider and cater to their employees’ needs for direction can help promote worker confidence and drive team success.

Communication is Key to Great Leadership

Great leaders don’t just exist in history—they still show up every day to motivate and inspire people in workplaces around the globe. And while doing so, workplace communication is key. Effective leaders build collaborative, productive environments by cultivating a culture of respectful and constructive communication. They recognize how different personalities and preferences are essential to fostering a thriving team dynamic.

Lastly, they appreciate how careful word choice, mindful emotional expression, and clear direction can help create an environment where team members feel safe, supported, and empowered to flourish.

Ready to gain awareness of your communication style and how it impacts those around you? Explore how Birkman Signature will help you succeed in leading and understand the needs of your team.

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