The way you communicate is the cornerstone of your executive presence. The words you choose and the way you frame your ideas have a big effect on how others see you. That’s why I teach my executive coaching clients that success doesn’t just depend on doing great work. It also hinges on how you communicate and how that communication shapes your relationships with others. Try these three ideas for communicating more clearly and effectively. I think you’ll find that even small tweaks help others hear what you’re saying — and that, in turn, helps you make an impact with your leadership.
1. Make your intent clear.
Don’t assume that other people understand why you’re acting, speaking or responding the way that you are or that they’ve made the connections you want them to make, even if you think it should be obvious to them. Maybe it would be obvious to others in a stress-free, static environment, but I don’t know anyone in that situation!
Misunderstanding about intent was at the heart of a conflict I helped a client with recently. A colleague had asked my client for help with something. Her way of helping was to start asking questions to understand more about what was going on so that she could help with a solution. But the other person misunderstood my client’s intentions and thought that she was challenging her, not helping. I helped my client see how she could create different outcomes in future scenarios like this one by taking a moment to acknowledge what the other person is saying and to explain her response. In this case, she could have said something like, “I am asking a lot of questions so I understand how I can best help you in this situation.” Frame your words and actions to help others understand where you are coming from and what your intentions are. “Connecting the dots” for others is a valuable habit for any leader.
2. Show that you get the big picture.
Part of your executive presence is showing others that you understand what’s truly important. Communicate in a way that helps them understand the “so what?” of what you’re saying. For example, when you’re telling your boss about a decision you’ve made, describe your conclusion first, not all the details that led up to it. There’ll be times when it’s appropriate to dive in to details, but first show that you can summarize and synthesize at a higher level and that you have a firm grasp on business priorities. Reinforcing that you’re someone who works for the broader benefit of the organization is one of the most powerful things you can do to build your influence.
3. Demonstrate your focus on the solution.
Let’s say your team is having trouble working with one another. There’s a big difference between telling your boss or colleagues “I’m frustrated by how they don’t collaborate” vs. “I’ve been thinking about how we can work more effectively together.” When you’re talking about a problem, one of your main goals should be to convey that you are focused on finding solutions. This doesn’t mean that you single-handedly have to find the right answer — you just want others to know that you’re on top of things and have a mindset and attitude that will move things forward. Instead of framing things in terms of solutions or opportunities, some people highlight the risks or frustration. To avoid coming across as someone who may be emotionally hijacked, practice pausing before you speak and think about how you want to show up. This will allow you to frame your responses in a positive way.
This week, pay attention to how you communicate and then start implementing the strategy that will make the most difference for you. To develop your communications skills even more, read “Communicating with Impact,” part of my Leadership EDGE SeriesSM.