How to be a Better Communicator

Flipchart for corporate briefing

A communication skills blueprint to help leaders and managers engage, influence and inspire their people.

Let’s be honest. Even when we have the budget and bandwidth to create innovative, eye-catching and maybe even award-winning comms campaigns, we often know we won’t make the impact we could.

That’s because line managers in our organisations – after all, still the most trusted source of information for the majority of employees – often don’t have the communication skills or confidence to support and deliver the message.

Even though a manager’s primary job is to get results by influencing others, people so often end up in management roles – sometimes very senior ones – without having developed or been trained in the capabilities they need to succeed, including the essential communication skills.

From an internal communication perspective, that means cascade briefings are poorly delivered if at all, meaningful dialogue is non-existent and major change gets too little ownership or frontline support. And the end result: Our beautifully crafted communications don’t get off the ground, never mind land at their destination.

Briefing or eulogy?

I’ve seen problems like that too many times over the years. I remember watching one line manager, working for a major retailer, reading a major change announcement as if he was giving a eulogy at a funeral – for a person he’d never met nor cared about. His only attempt to localise the briefing was to change the word ‘we’ (the company) to ‘they’ (presumably the Zillons from the Planet Tharg – or more likely HQ, by inference.) The result of his efforts could be seen in the eyes of his thoroughly disengaged team.

There’s nothing more de-motivating for staff than to see leaders say one thing and do another. The disconnect between words and deeds leads to a loss of respect and trust that is difficult to win back.

The key to employee engagement

It is managers’ communication confidence and competence that really makes the difference in successful employee engagement and internal communication activity. Up-skilling line managers is nearly always the single most important step companies can take to improve communication and engagement.

Of course, designing and rolling out training takes time and demands real commitment from the organisation. But it’s always worthwhile. In stark contrast to the story above, we recently trained over 100 communications ‘super users’ in our work to help HARTMANN build a world-class business.

The results have been fantastic, with managers all around the world getting behind the key messages and adding their own local examples to bring the messages to life where they work. Global communication with a local accent – and genuine dialogue about how HARTMANN people can contribute to the success of their business.

Five essential communication skills

Over the years, we’ve trained hundreds of leaders and managers in of the kinds of skills they need to become confident communicators. We’ve done this in companies including AstraZeneca, Capital One, TetraPak and Virgin Media and have written a handy guide for busy managers on the topic.

Through all of that work, we’ve isolated what we believe are the five essential skills of the confident communicator:

  1. Motivating teams and individuals
  2. Communicating change
  3. Running great meetings (including generating dialogue)
  4. Presenting with impact
  5. Writing.

Of course, there are many more skills that can be part of a manager’s communication skills toolkit. But those are the five areas where we believe building capability pays the biggest dividends.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be blogging on all five of these essential communication skills, highlighting tips and good practices to help managers thrive – and of course deliver the key messages so that they are understood, retained and acted on. You might want to direct managers in your organisation to this blog. And maybe some of those tips will be useful to you as a comms practitioner, too.

Let me know what you think – and feel free to add more to the list.

We’ve also written a handbook that provides a wealth of tips and techniques. How to be a Better Communicator is not for sale in bookshops. Instead, you buy copies direct from us and present them to your leaders and managers so they can sharpen their communication skills and engage their teams better than ever before.

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