Do you ever struggle with how to achieve clarity in communication as a leader?
My daughter, Kelly, was a very precocious child. She had a high level of language and reading skills at a very early age. When she was three years old, she was suffering from an ear infection. The doctor prescribed Amoxicillin to treat it. I poured the first dose of the pink liquid into the small dosage cup. I squatted down to her level, looked her in the eye, and said “here honey, this will make your ear feel better”.
And before I could even stop her, she took the medicine from my hand and poured the entire cup directly into her ear. She looked up at me with the biggest brown eyes in the world. Her expression seemed to say, ‘okay mom, if you say so’. I was speechless as I cleaned her up and tried again.
That, my friends, was a communication fail and it was 100% my fault.
The cost of communication fails
Communication fails happen every day and in business the results can be devastating. Take the case of a young engineer who was reviewing a set of plans with a client.
The client said to the engineer, “do you think these plans will be ready for the township by Monday’s deadline?”
The young engineer said “yes, I’m sure they’ll be ready.”
And that was the end of the interaction. The problem was that the client assumed the engineer would submit the plans to the township. And the engineer assumed the client would submit them. Neither did and they missed the deadline. The township awarded the project to someone else. Both the engineering firm and the client lost millions from this communication blunder.
Other times, it costs people their job. I know a pilot who was working as a captain for a corporate jet company. One morning the flight plan instructed him to fly from Pittsburgh to Lancaster. He would then wait at the regional airport while the executives attended a meeting. They were to return to Pittsburgh in time for a board dinner.
Everything went as planned. The pilot landed the plane safely and the executives deplaned.
They looked around and then turned to the pilot and said, “where the hell are we?”
“Lancaster, PA, sir”, the pilot said.
The executive became angry and yelled at the pilot. He said their meeting was in Lancaster, Ohio, not Pennsylvania.
The captain lost his job that afternoon.
These situations and thousands more like them are why CLARITY in communication is so important. In fact, it’s one of the four pillars of leadership that I use in my signature leadership model, CARE to Lead.
Communication begins with clarity. And without it, you’re left with misunderstandings and miscommunications. Not to mention a serious lack of employee and team engagement.
So, what does that mean for you, the leader? It means you need to incorporate some things into your daily communication. Things that you take for granted, but will make a big impact.
How to achieve clarity in communication
Let’s look at how to achieve clarity in communication on a daily basis.
1. Be specific when giving instruction
Don’t assume people know what you want. The engineer’s client should have said, “please make sure YOU get the plan to the Township”. He shouldn’t have assumed. Tell them. And, as an added piece of clarity, ask if there’s anything that might stand in their way of accomplishing the task. If there is, ask them how you can help remove that barrier.
2. Ask questions when receiving instruction
The engineer should have asked if it was on him to get the plan to the Township. In this one situation both sides own responsibility. Don’t assume you got the whole picture. Ask for details, including dates and times. Repeat back your understanding.
3. Don’t be IKEA
Okay, IKEA does provide excellent instructions for building their furniture. But it’s overwhelming. There are millions of pieces. And when you spread them out on the floor it looks like a hardware store vomited in your living room. Clarity requires you to break instructions down into smaller pieces.
4. Choose your words carefully
Words have different meanings to different people. If you say you’d “like” to have something on your desk by next Friday, that can sound like wishful thinking. Instead, say “I have a hard deadline of next Friday. Can you commit to having this on my desk by that day?” That’s clarity in instruction.
5. Pay attention to email and messaging apps
Today’s technology makes it easier than ever these days to have communication fails. Use short sentences and bullet list when possible. And ALWAYS have an outcome in mind when you begin. Ask yourself “why am I sending this message? What outcome am I after?? And then, write your communication accordingly.
Clarity can make a big difference in your communication. These five tips only scratch the surface. What have you done in your career to build clarity? I’d love to hear, drop me a message in the comments!
Want more strategies beyond how to achieve clarity in communication to improve yourself and your career? Look at how you’re communicating through your online presence. Start with your LinkedIn profile.
If you would like to have a private executive coaching conversation, please schedule an appointment with me here.