Poor Communication is quite perhaps the # 1 cause of divorce, failed relationships and workplace problems. If you want to improve your effectiveness as a leader, you have to learn how to communicate effectively. I’d like to share my top 12 communication tips with you, so you can improve your relationships and performance at work.
Tip # 1: Provide Communication Training
One of the best things you can do is provide communication training for your subordinates. Give a few classes on proper communication techniques. Bring in an expert to teach the class. Assign a few “communication” books to read and have your team members write a report about what they learned. Have each person give a speech in front of their peers about what they learned. Do whatever you can to help people communicate more effectively. It is one of the most important leadership skills.
Tip # 2: Include Communication Skills on Evaluation Reports
Use specific “communication” accomplishments on evaluation reports. Let your followers know this upfront, at the beginning of the rating period. Tell them that effective communication is part of their job. When you do their initial counseling, monthly counseling and/or quarterly counseling, let them know what they did right and did wrong, in terms of communication. At the end of the rating period, put some of these accomplishments or failures on their evaluation report. If you tell them upfront, and put it in writing, people will know that you are serious about it.
Tip # 3: Do More Listening Than Speaking
You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Use them in that proportion. Make sure that you do more listening than speaking. There are many benefits to following this approach. First and foremost, you will learn a lot when you listen. Second of all, people will respect you more because so few people are active listeners. When people are talking to you, put your cell phone away and look the person in the eyes. Give the other person your undivided attention and do nothing but LISTEN. Don’t think about how you are going to respond. Lean forward and be an active listener.
Tip # 4: Be Open and Honest, Don’t Sugar Coat Things
If there is a problem, address it immediately. Don’t sugar coat things or beat around the bush. Sometimes leaders have to talk about issues that make them uncomfortable. You owe it to your team to look them in the eye and to be open and honest with them, even if it makes them upset and hurts their feelings. This comes with being a leader. I meet to many leaders who are scared of confrontation or aren’t willing to address “controversial” or “tough” issues because they are scared to confront someone. Don’t be like those leaders. Be open and honest and don’t sugar coat things. The sooner you can communicate with the person, the sooner you can fix the problem.
Tip # 5: Never Assume the Other Person Understands Your Message
I’ve made this mistake more times than I like to admit. It’s amazing when you can look someone in the eye and tell them something, yet they don’t understand what you are telling them to do. You might think they do, but unless you confirm it with them, you might be disappointed. We all interpret things differently, based upon the message and tone of voice.
You can tell ten people something and get ten different interpretations. That’s why you should have the person repeat back to you what you are telling them and have them explain as specifically as possible what they think you want them to do. When you ASSUME that people understand you, you are going to be disappointed!
Tip # 6: If You Have an Issue with Someone, Speak to Them Directly
Another way to solve communication issues is to deal with an issue yourself. For instance, if you are a Platoon Sergeant and you are having an issue with a Soldier; don’t have the Squad Leader or Team Leader fix it. You FIX IT! If you have the other person fix it, they might not understand what was wrong in the first place, or they might misinterpret you. Sure, you can have the Squad Leader and/or Team Leader present when you talk to the Soldier, but you fix it. Always go straight to the source yourself. If you don’t, there will be major communication issues.
Tip # 7: Adjust Your Communication Style to Match the Other Person’s Style
Everyone communicates differently. Some people are very direct. Others are passive. Some people are more verbal, while others are non-verbal. When possible, you want to adjust your communication style to match the person you are talking with. For instance, if someone is more of a “laid back” person, you probably don’t want to come across as overly aggressive or in your face.
This is why you need to take the time to learn the personalities, quirks, strengths and weaknesses of each person you lead. There is no cookie cutter approach to leadership or communication!
Tip # 8: Hold Regular Meetings
I’ve never been a fan of meetings. Most meetings are not planned out and they are not conducted effectively. But on the flip side of the coin, regular meetings are a great way to communicate with everyone as a group. This can keep your messages from getting distorted as they flow down through the communication channels. When you hold meetings, make sure you have all the important players attend the meeting. Another great thing to do is to publish meeting minutes and make sure everyone gets a copy. At the end of each meeting, have your key leaders’ back-brief you what you told them.
Tip # 9: Make Sure You Are Accessible
You need to be accessible to your followers. They need to know how to get a hold of you when needed. You should have an open door policy at work. When people call, answer your phone! When people email you, respond promptly. Sure, you can set boundaries like no calls after 9 p.m. unless it is an emergency, but if someone calls you, pick up the phone!
Remember, you are the servant of your team. They do not work for you; you work for them! Treat them well and be accessible. The day your people stop bring you their problems is the day you’ve lost your effectiveness as a leader.
Tip # 10: Make Sure Your Subordinate Leaders Are Accessible
If you have people who report to you, who also supervise other people, you need to make sure they are accessible to their followers. Make sure they have an open door policy and are available for their followers when needed. The best way to do this is to set a strong example yourself, to counsel them of your expectations and to hold them accountable for doing so.
Tip # 11: Provide Constant Feedback
As a leader, you should provide constant feedback for your followers. When they do something right, tell them immediately. Praise them for doing a good job. When your followers do something wrong, address the issue immediately. Your followers should never need to wonder where they stand in their eyes. And don’t forget to tell people when they do something right. If you only talk to people when they mess up, you won’t be very effective. Remember, feedback is vital to the morale and effectiveness of your organization.
Tip # 12: Practice Written Communication
Another great communication tip is to practice your written communication. It absolutely amazes me how many officers and NCOs do not know how to write effectively. The spoken word is powerful, but the written word is even more powerful. Take a class on effective writing. Learn proper grammar, spelling and how to structure your written materials. This makes you look professional and will give you a cutting edge over your peers. Knowing how to write effectively is a very valuable skill to possess.
Learning how to communicate effectively is vital to your success as a military or civilian leader. Make it a point to constantly evaluate your communication skills and look for ways to improve. Teach your subordinates what you learn and watch your effectiveness soar!
Do you have anything you would want to add? Any questions? Just post them below. Thanks.
Former Army Major (resigned)
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2 thoughts on “Communication Tips for Military Leaders”
Communication is a skill all of us need to improve. We all come with built in filters (background, experience, bias, etc). Our goal should be to treat people the way you want to be treated. Typically, this works well. Another approach is to get the other person to view a situation from your perspective. Consider using statements like: If you were in my position how would you feel? If our roles were reversed in this situation how would you see the issue? When people can see the issue from your perspective it usually helps calm the issue.
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Great points Mark. I used to do that when I counseled my Soldiers. Before I issued punishment, I always asked them “what would you do if you were in my shoes right now?” In most cases, they agreed with what I was thinking when they looked at things from my perspective.