Lack of clarity is a performance killer. For you and your team.
When we fail to clarify the meaning behind our words, we fail our teams in the process.
Most employees get anxious around managers who can’t communicate clearly. On the other hand, managers who’ve learned to get to the heart of the matter swiftly are better communicators and by extension better leaders.
Some of the worst bosses I worked for were perfectly good people. They were just horrible communicators. They lacked the ability to see and communicate clearly. They made a lot of sense, but only in their own heads.
Beginning today, start paying attention to your daily communication and you’ll discover there’s a significant opportunity for improvement. Here are three areas that can make an immediate difference in your communication and leadership.
1. When assigning work.
Strive to be specific with the outcome you have in mind. If the outcome is “unclear” in your mind, chances are you’re not in a position to delegate it just yet. Iron out your thinking before taking action.
If you’re giving a timeline. Give an actual timeline. Too often we get lazy and say something like: “How about next week?” or “Next quarter?”. That’s not a timeline. That’s an estimation. I want you to get precise. “Next Thursday”, “15th of September” etc.
Clarify whether it’s a negotiable timeline or it’s a deadline. Go one step further and explain the impact of missing the deadline. When you share the impact of missing, employees have a better picture of what’s at stake.
Consider closing the meeting with an agreement: “Are you able to commit to this project and timeline?”. Create space for your employees to ask questions. Questions are good. Questions are a sign they care. Encourage more curiosity.
2. When sharing difficult feedback with an employee
Amateurs give feedback. Professionals give clear, actionable feedback. Big difference. One is lazy, the other potentially life-changing.
Most of the time we make it harder on ourselves by sending mixed signals. We try too hard to “soften the blow” or “couch our feedback“. While our intention is pure, we end up diluting the message. This causes more frustration and anxiety than just stating the facts clearly and succinctly.
If your employee is doing something wrong, you need to clearly communicate it. The point of this isn’t punitive. The point is to share information the other party might not know or may have forgotten.
Here’s how you can make your feedback constructive, not destructive.
- If you don’t have an example to share, you don’t have feedback to share.
- If you’re not willing to be wrong, you have no business giving it.
- If you’re angry, you’re not in the right place to give it.
Most employees are desperate to know where they stand. We need to make it easy on them by telling them. When we sugarcoat our feedback, we’re telling ourselves that our employees aren’t capable of having a difficult conversation. We’re simply making assumptions without understanding the complete picture.
Feedback is about context, poise, and vulnerability. The goal is to remain tough on the problem yet tender on the person. That’s the job of a leader. That’s what we need you to do.
3. When communicating difficult news to your boss
When it comes to sharing difficult news with your boss, beating around the bush is a futile strategy. Most managers expect direct, crisp information from their direct reports. You’re better of leading with the bad news as fast as you can.
If a customer is about to jump ship and you need your boss to step. Try:
“XYZ customer might churn if we don’t do XYZ. I need your help in prioritizing these urgent resources. I’m also requesting your help in attending the next QBR and sharing the roadmap. I have slides ready for you.”
If there’s one thing most managers hate, it’s the element of surprise, especially the bad kind. Avoid surprising your manager by optimizing for clear, direct no-nonsense communication.
Improving your ability to clearly communicate is a skill that can be learned with deliberate practice. Next time you find yourself in a meeting with a leader you admire, notice how quickly they get to the heart of the matter. They move fast. They don’t waste time.