Since May of 2020, I have been conducting a field study, encompassing interviews with top leaders across various industries, of all ages, backgrounds, and expertise levels.
During these interviews, I've learned that one of the most critical skills needed now, more than ever, is effective communication.
In this article, we're going to spend time discussing five distinct aspects of your communication, from verbal to listening, understanding your audience, and other strategies to increase how effectively you communicate as a leader, professionally, and personally.
To gain the most value from reading this article, we encourage you to notice the areas in which you already excel and those needing more tender loving care (TLC) and attention. Then commit to leveraging what you do very well in your communication skills and growing in the areas that need improvement.
Eliminate Distracting Pauses
If you were to rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10, one being "I don't think I'm a good communicator," and 10 being "I'm crushing it," what score would you give your communication skills in general?
When I started my career as a Programmer back in 1991, I joined the Toastmasters club at Prudential in Roseland, NJ. I regularly participated in Toastmasters meetings to practice delivering speeches and becoming more self-aware and fluent in public speaking.
One of the biggest benefits of participating in Toastmasters was having an "umm" counter during every speech—this person tracked how many "ums, uh, you know, right," and any other districting utterances we expressed while delivering our talks. And that was such a huge gift.
As a coach and motivational speaker who attends many conferences and panel discussions, I have noticed that one of the biggest deterrents from effective communication is precisely this--all the distracting and extra words that we inject into our speech, rather than simply pausing with silence.
So, what can you do moving forward? Here's your challenge.
When you attend a meeting, live or virtual, on video or over the phone, listen to yourself and start to pay attention to how many of these pauses you tend to use, "um, uh, you know, right."
We all do it. And that's okay. However, from this point forward, you'll be able to catch yourself and instead pause with silence. Most of us aren't used to pausing with silence and inadvertently choose to fill the air with these expressions, which detract from our message's potency.
What is most important from now on is that you become mindful and intentional about what you plan to enhance over the next 12 months to take your communication skills to a whole new level.
If you use many of these pauses or phrases, pay attention to it, and begin to hold silence so that people can focus on your message. You got this. And you will see results immediately!
Understand and Connect with Your Audience
Connecting to the people around us, our centers of influence, clients, stakeholders, and the people who rely on us is essential for us to succeed in our roles and feel the most pleasure from our hard work.
Whatever you are presenting, understanding and knowing your audience as best as possible will give you the insights you need to message your communication the right way. What is the right way? The right way is the way that meets your needs and the needs of your audience.
How do you get to know your audience? Ask yourself:
What do they want? What are their fears? What are their desires? What would they want to walk away with after they interacted with me? What is it that they want to see 12 months from now?
Throughout 2020, for many of us, we have shifted from doing business face-to-face to facilitating many more online training and virtual meetings remotely. I believe that a hybrid configuration, including live and remote interactions, will dominate our future at work from this point forward. However, whether in person or virtual, nothing has changed in terms of the strategy to understand and connect with your audience.
We still need to understand who our audience is and then create a message that will influence the outcomes you desire and serve them to gain the certainty to continue or start doing business with you—or meet the business objectives proactively.
To that end, here's your challenge. Before going into a meeting or an interaction, do your homework. Ask yourself, who's my audience? What do they want/need? What's compelling to them? What message can I communicate to inspire them to ____ (fill in the blank)? E.g., inspire them to see your solution as the answer to their problem.
Improve Your Listening Skills
Now, more than ever, developing listening skills as part of your communication skills will help you build trust with colleagues, employees, and your talent across the organization. And it will also help you improve personally when interacting with acquaintances, friends, and loved ones.
As a motivational speaker, trainer, and leadership coach, listening is essential when I'm engaging with my audiences, facilitating online programs, and coaching one-on-one. When presenting to a group via Zoom or any other virtual tool, I tend to ask questions throughout, and then I listen for the answers. Virtually, listening happens when you ask a question and ask the audience to answer in the "chat," and you get to read and share some of those answers.
When you listen and do it proactively, it enables you to understand what people need, what they want, and how they feel. Then, you can respond in a way that will resonate with them so that they can gain the most from the interaction.
As a leadership coach, my primary role is to listen and ask empowering questions—those that begin with "what" or "how," typically. Then, the key is for me to stay quiet and wait for the answers.
Be honest, how many of you ask a question, wait for two seconds, and immediately begin to speak again? Many of us do it—we don't even realize it. It's a behavior that is widely accepted in our society—for people to get interrupted. One reason is that we are often rushing and need to "move on" to the next thing. I don't believe this is done maliciously for the most part.
When you ask a question, especially an empowering question, and wait for the answer, you create a safe space for the people you're interacting with to think and then give you an answer.
Imagine how this simple adjustment could improve your professional and personal relationships, with direct reports, your manager, partner, or children?
So, here's your challenge. First, notice if you tend to ask empowering questions—starting with "how" or "what," and second, pay attention to your reaction after you ask. Do you listen or not? If you do, keep it up! And if you immediately interrupt before you hear an answer, we're guiding you to begin practicing waiting for a response.
You may feel uncomfortable while waiting for an answer. The other person may also feel uncomfortable. And then you may notice that once the person notices that you're actually listening, they will give you a thoughtful response based on where they are and how they're doing at the moment. What you hear and learn may genuinely surprise you. You may also experience that people in your life begin to open up and feel safer to express themselves.
Here is another benefit. Once you begin to really listen, you can then influence your audience because you understand where they are coming from. You know what is important to them, and you can inject the information they need most into your message, which benefits you both and saves everyone effort and time.
Question Your Beliefs
One of the beliefs that helps me communicate effectively is that "I can talk to a rock." I communicate openly because, as a curious person, I believe I am full of questions I can use to engage my audience.
No matter who I am with or who I meet, I believe that I'll be able to ask empowering questions, listen, and before you know it, we're engaging in an authentic conversation.
The second belief that helps me with my communication skills is that "I have something valuable to share." This belief encourages me to get up in front of an audience or video camera to share my thoughts and insights with an audience. This perspective helps me create online courses, coach, and consult with clients and strategic partners because I believe that I have something valuable to contribute to them after 30 years of industry experience and over 20 years of leadership experience.
A third belief that supports me is operating from the stance that "everybody has potential."
This belief leads me to think that everyone can improve their communication skills. It also validates that I have a growth mindset in this area. Skills and abilities can improve; people can improve.
I bring mindset into the conversation of effective communication because mindset and beliefs play a significant role in everything you do.
When you hold beliefs that prevent you from communicating prolifically, you will hold back from sharing your message, thoughts, and ideas freely. Similarly, you will not take action to increase your visibility, enhance your personal brand, and increase your ability to build rapport while communicating with people.
Here's your challenge. Think about your beliefs about your communication skills and how those beliefs align with your thoughts and the words you speak. What do you think about your communication and your communication effectiveness? What words do you use to describe your communication? Begin to pay attention to that. Then, think about the "actions" you take that reflect those beliefs, thoughts, and words.
When you begin to connect how your beliefs, thoughts, words, and actions align with who you want to become as a communicator, that will give you a huge clue as to whether or not you need to shift your mindset around your communication skills and your communication abilities.
Like anything else, communication is a skill that you can learn and improve. How is this true for you?
Believe in Your Potential
I recently celebrated the third anniversary of publishing my first book, Fearless Women at Work: Five Powerful Strategies to Thrive in Your Career and Life! I realized a dream that I contemplated for many years as an adult. Finally, in 2017 when I launched my own business, I decided to take the opportunity to write my first book.
How I went about writing my book was very strategic. I looked around for programs that could support me by teaching how to write a book and get free publicity to promote it and my business. In January of 2017, I joined the Quantum Leap Program with Steve Harrison, where I met my coaches who taught me exactly that and supported me to write my book once and for all, in only six months!
Before Quantum Leap, I had no idea of an effective way to write a book. But I knew I could learn how.
And I know today that you have so much potential. Whatever skill you want to improve, such as your communication skills, you have the power to improve that skill. With a growth mindset, anything is possible.
So, I want to share with you this overarching message around your potential and investing in yourself.
You need to invest time, effort, and energy, investing in your growth and mindset to strengthen your strengths and develop your weaknesses or areas that need improvement. Otherwise, there is no chance that you will become the leader, the person, or the human you are here to become.
As humans, we need to make progress to feel fulfilled.
And if you're at that place where you feel really comfortable, I'm going to invite you and challenge you to contribute at a much grander scale—to your community, as a thought leader in your professional network, by partnering with other thought leaders to create something magnificent in this world. There is always a next level, no matter where you are.
This is not a dress rehearsal. With an abundance mindset, I believe that you have potential—in the same way that I know I have potential. Let's not waste it. Let's use it to the best of our abilities to contribute and make the biggest impact that we can in this lifetime.
Use these challenges to take yourself and your impact to the next stratosphere, stepping out of your comfort zone from a place of abundance, not scarcity, and knowing that you have something extremely valuable to contribute—in a way that only you can.
With love and appreciation,
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About Dr. Ginny A. Baro
Dr. Ginny A. Baro is a sought-after international motivational speaker & leadership coach, a career strategist, and #1 bestselling author of Fearless Women at Work