Leadership Skills: 4 Traits Of The Worst Communicators

Not knowing how to communicate effectively can cripple your business. Improve your communication skills by recognizing and fixing the problem.
October 10, 2013

Poor communication in the workplace triggers a host of negative consequences, such as a lack of productivity, animosities and low employee morale. It can even result in lost business opportunities as a recent study by the Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor confirms. This global survey shows that poor leadership communication has a direct commercial impact and hits sales far harder than good leadership communication enhances them. All of these negative consequences are a hefty price to pay for poor communication skills.

Effective communication is one of the most powerful weapons in your arsenal as a business owner or leader. Fortunately, of all the leadership skills, communication is one of the most malleable.

To improve how you communicate as a leader, you need to increase your self-awareness of your communication habits. Start by looking over the four worst communication traits that follow. How many sound like you?

1. Not being aware of your body language.

Poor communicators are often unaware of the message their body language communicates. As Carol Kinsey Goman says in The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help--or Hurt--How You Lead, "We are genetically programmed to look for non-verbal cues and to quickly understand their meaning." We listen, to a great extent, with our eyes. Contempt for others' opinions, for example, or condescension are easily perceived, even if these feelings aren't verbally expressed.

Raise your awareness in this area. Are you in the habit of raising your eyebrows or furrowing your brows when a subordinate is trying to explain something? Do you roll your eyes when a colleague is outlining a proposal you don't agree with? Do you scowl when someone is bringing a problem to your attention? All these facial expressions may seem insignificant to you, but they carry a lot of weight with those on the receiving end.

2. Being a "Type A" communicator.

Type A individuals have a sense of urgency and are obsessed with time management. This makes them poor listeners who frequently finish other people's sentences or interrupt people in conversations. They also have a tendency to get easily frustrated when others don't get to the point quickly. As Meyer Friedman, M.D. explains in Type A Behavior: Its Diagnosis and Treatment, Type A individuals also embody a free-floating hostility or impatience that manifests itself in rudeness or abruptness—they often have a short fuse which makes most communications with them unnecessarily difficult. Type A communicators can alienate customers and wreak havoc with subordinates' emotions.

Type A individuals often work in fast-paced, high-stress environments, and are highly competitive and achievement driven. Often, they're not aware of the communication problems that their Type A behavior engenders. If you're a Type A, work on challenging some of your habitual thoughts about situations and people, and take steps to change your patterns of behavior. Lower your stress level so you can soften some of the sharp edges of your Type A tendencies. Not sure if you're a Type A personality? Take this quiz to find out.

3. Always wanting to be right.

Wanting to be the smartest person in the room is another trait of poor communicators. It pushes a person to be the first to speak, to dominate the conversation, and to be dogmatic and belligerent in defending their position. It also manifests itself in patterns of communication that are predictable and annoying, such as talking loudly over someone to correct their point of view or saying things such as "I told you so" or "That'll teach you" when something goes wrong. They often turn discussions into a test of wills. All of these behaviors derail conversations and hinder a productive exchange of ideas and opinions.

Be willing to be wrong. Don't let the need to be right hurt the communication process on your team. Don't take up all the oxygen in the room, and allow breathing space for others to air their views. Above all, raise your self-awareness of how you come across to others.

4. Having a "fix it" mentality.

Leaders who have a fix-it mindset hinder people's personal growth. They have a need to give a lot of advice, when none has been asked for. They often feel compelled to tell their own war stories to influence others' behavior. They never use a coach approach to help people gain insight into their own issues. On the other hand, a good communicator knows that people are a reservoir of talent rather than a problem to be fixed. They know that people have within them the ability to solve their own problems, and they help them access that inner wisdom.

Practice Quiet Leadership

In Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work, neuroscientist David Rock states that research shows that less than one in 20 interactions results in someone having an insight. Rock provides a six-step coaching process that can bring a person from impasse to insight in less than five minutes. It's not about the leader having great ideas; it's about helping people think better instead of telling people what to do (the word "quiet" captures this process perfectly). Helping people get an insight is the only way to bring about real change.

The six steps of quiet leadership are:

1. Let them do all the thinking. Focus on solutions instead of problems, and stretch people as they explore new behaviors or ways of thinking.
2. Listen for potential. Maintain a distance, and allow people to solve their own dilemmas.
3. Speak with intent. Learn to be succinct, specific and generous in how you communicate as a leader.
4. Dance toward insight. Learn to use skills such as permission, questioning and clarifying to stay on the road from problem to solution.
5. Create new thinking. Help people become scientists of their own thinking by helping them diagnose their current reality, explore alternatives and tap their energy to find solutions.
6. Follow up. Explore what was done, check in on emotions, and provide encouragement. Ensure that the new learning is becoming a habit.

Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd. and the author of two books: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.

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