Leadership and communication are the top two in-demand soft skills, according to a 2018 LinkedIn survey. Yet many leaders still struggle with their communication. Dr. Lisa Steelman, Associate Professor at Florida Tech, says, “Communication is one of the most critical leadership skills, yet one of the most poorly developed.”
Whether you’re in a leadership position or aspire to become a leader in your organization, it’s important to watch out for these six obstacles to effective communication and know the strategies to overcome them.
Obstacle: Even people speaking the same language can have difficulty understanding each other if they are from different regions of the country or different generations. Professional jargon, regional colloquialism and even slang can stymie communication.
Resolution: Slow down and speak simply. Clarity of thought makes it easier for others to understand what you want. Don’t be afraid to practice before presenting to your team.
Obstacle: Too much information with too many details can distract your audience, as can too many interruptions during the workday. Bosses who bombard their team with very detailed speeches may lose some of their audience. Employees receiving hundreds of emails and having colleagues constantly knocking on their doors can also suffer from information overload. In turn, their productivity can suffer because they seek out distractions to avoid the overload.
Resolution: Keep it simple when presenting information to employees. It is sometimes better to make several shorter presentations, especially when discussing a complex matter. Allow team members to cut down on interruptions by using door signs or shared calendars to let others know when they are available.
Noise and Distraction
Obstacle: Distraction can rob people of good listening skills. Holding a staff meeting in an open room where music is playing and numerous conversations are taking place is an example of such distraction.
Resolution: One of the best ways to overcome barriers in communication is to become a good listener and allow others to really hear you. If you are holding a one-on-one, don’t check your email or phone messages while an employee is trying to explain a problem. Speak to your team in a setting conducive to listening so those in attendance can give you their full attention.
Obstacle: Just because you think you’ve explained a project or problem thoroughly doesn’t mean team members have grasped it thoroughly.
Resolution: Encourage your team to repeat back to you what they heard you say. This is an effective means of demonstrating that they heard and understood what you were trying to convey. Learn to present details in various ways, such as with graphs or charts, checklists or by using a Q&A format to break up information into smaller bites.
Obstacle: Status differences can cause barriers to communication due to an organization’s hierarchy. Some employees may have difficulty attempting to communicate with others because of one barrier or another.
Resolution: Become the manager who is excellent at relating to and understanding employees and let them know how to best communicate with you, and that your door is always open to discuss issues.
Obstacle: Negative emotions and body language can throw your team off message. They may become more concerned with how you are acting, than with listening to what you are trying to communicate to them.
Resolution: Being emotional intelligent will make you a better communicator. Be cognizant of your own thoughts and body language so they don’t get in the way of the message you are trying to convey to your team. Try matching tone, volume and pitch to the other person. Better yet, try mirroring the other person’s body language without being too obvious.
“Emotional intelligence is really important in the workplace, especially for leaders,” says Steelman. “Emotional intelligence has to do with understanding and managing your own emotions as well as understanding and managing the emotions of others. That’s a critical piece of leadership.”
Managers who consider these obstacles and work to overcome them can become leaders with effective communication skills. Seek out training in areas such as cultural diversity, language and status differences that can help transform you into a capable communicator.