When leaders don’t understand communication, they can find themselves caught in distortions and generalizations. Some of the more common mistakes happen when leaders are unaware of the consequences of poor communication. This can lead to the perpetuation of false cultural beliefs and value structures. Here are eight common communication mistakes that every leader needs to be aware of:
1. Mindreading - Some of the hallmarks of poor communication happen so often, leaders don’t even realise they are making them. One of the biggest struggles leaders have with language is called mind reading. This is exactly what it sounds like and happens when a leader assumes to know how someone else is feeling. When a leader attempts to mindread another person’s intent, this replaces the true intent with what it means to the leader instead of what it meant to that person. Leaders do not realise they are projecting their meanings onto others and therefore do not inquire as to the true intent. When a leader mind reads and then asks questions based on his own assigned meaning, this can cause the other person to become defensive which only serves to further break down the communication.
2. Deleting Information - Leaders will sometimes delete information in an attempt to make a situation fit into their narrative. Take for example a leader who is giving an employee performance feedback. In this scenario, the leader deletes certain aspects to perpetuate his own narrative. To maintain this narrative, he does not invite the employee to share his own interpretation of his performance in regard to his strengths and weaknesses. Sending forth this distorted view that is missing components can also lead to a defensive reaction. Each party to the conversation then comes to believe that what he is communicating is not being received by the other.
3. Personalising - The defensiveness that comes from poor communication spirals until both parties are defensive. Because we are invested in our roles, particularly as leaders, feedback can be taken as a criticism of the self. This internalisation of feedback into criticism is called personalising, and again it perpetuates the defensiveness.
4. Awfulizing - Awfulizing is the process of making a situation much worse in mind than it is in reality. This is done by linking something that went wrong previously with a current struggle in order to affect a pattern. Each instance draws on the past instead of treating each situation as an independent event.
5. Opinions as Facts - Sharing opinions as fact is a communication distortion. In this instance, thoughts are assumed to be truths and are turned into facts. This occurs when someone thinks he knows what someone else meant and holds it to be true. What the leader is not sharing is the standard for acceptability. Without that standard, again we are back in a defensive situation if the other person holds a different standard. When faced with opinions that are not backed by facts, ask for supporting evidence and examples.
6. Modes of Communication - In today’s tech-based society, leaders often rely on email for communicating important information. The problem is that the written word doesn’t carry the same tonality or structures as verbal communication. It is bare communication that can be interpreted in many different ways. If you have an important message, it should be shared face to face, via a video call, or in a phone conversation so that the variabilities of structure and nuance can be heard. Email can be used as a follow-up to support what was said and to serve as a record of the conversation.
7. Enculturation - Leaders are often called upon to share information but sharing hearsay is poor communication that is not grounded in reality or fact. Sharing as your own, what you think other people think, is a form of mindreading. When leaders are not connected, and in tune with their own thoughts they can be swayed and moved by what other people think and feel which is the basis of enculturation.
How to Avoid These Pitfalls
If you want to improve your communication skills, coaching is a great place to start. Leadership development and coaching are about self-development. Coaching is about developing your understanding of how to utilise language to connect and communicate more effectively. In coaching, we shift the playing field and the way people use language to express their opinions and their perspectives of situations.
Driving Performance with Meaningfulness
When leaders shift toward more effective communication, they are able to help the people around them develop meanings and meaningfulness that drives performance. The quality of meaning equates to the quality of performance. While management is about measuring performance and holding people accountable, leadership is about building awareness and engaging people to connect what they are doing with high-quality meaningfulness. This meaningfulness leads to passion and engagement that drives performance and unleashes potential.
The Communications Essentials program is The Coaching Room’s essential training program for Executive Teams. Delivered as a three-day intensive communication skills course, it is both a personal and professional development program.