Be a Leader: Coach Your People to Better Communication


You have someone on your team who is sharp, knowledgeable and well-intended, but their communication style gets in their way.

Good leaders step up to help their people overcome these kinds of barriers, ones that could ultimately interfere with their business successes and professional futures. Few skills, however, are more vulnerable and personal than how we communicate. And that means coaching this person could be awkward and sensitive.

That doesn’t mean your only options are to either send them to a communication skills course or resign yourself to the idea that “they’ll never change!”

Here’s a simple five-step process you can follow to reduce their resistance and maximize your impact.

1. Ask the person a safe but thought-provoking question to surface their awareness of the need to improve.

2. Very briefly explain how they could improve.

3. Demonstrate (with humility) how “better” might look and sound.

4. Invite them to practice the idea in the moment, giving them a comfortable, safe place to try the new way out.

5. Affirm their courage and how their newfound awareness will help them embark on a process of continual improvement.

I recently had the opportunity to put these steps into practice in my own organization. Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: Describe an important upcoming meeting where it would be good for you to ask more questions than state your opinions.

Him: I have a committee meeting tomorrow. I tend to be opinionated in these meetings and it would benefit the group if I led with thoughtful questions.

Me: Good. Consider asking questions to clarify the group’s desired future and establish the measurable and emotional value of making changes.

Here’s how it might sound: ‘What do people think this operation should look like in five years?’ and ‘How will achieving that 5-year vision support our financial and mission goals?’

How would those questions sound in your own voice and lexicon?

Him: I might ask, ‘How would each of you articulate our vision?’ and ‘What link do you see between achieving that vision and the KPIs for each of the divisions?’

Me: Awesome. Asking thought-stimulating questions like those will generate more robust dialogue and will position you as a leader in the group.

Everyone can improve how they communicate. Everyone can coach. And any improvement in communication will strengthen culture, performance and relationships.

Who’s someone on your team that could improve their communication? When and how could you coach them using this template?

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