As modern leaders, we often run too fast to notice that what we mean does not always match what we say. A lack of thoughtfulness when communicating creates a gap between what we intend to communicate and what is heard, which can sabotage effective work teams and destroy employee morale.
Let’s look at a couple of examples. I spoke with a senior executive of an organization once who shared his company’s leadership philosophy: Hire slowly, fire quickly, and focus on the top three metrics. From the leadership perspective, they are proud of the “hire slowly” part because it suggests that they are thoughtful in their approach to hiring, resulting in fewer firings and greater retention. Ironically, as my team delved deeper into the organization, we learned that the emphasis for the folks two levels down was on the “fire quickly” part. They lived in perpetual fear of being unexpectedly canned. It created a culture of blame and suspicion and dampened creativity. Employees became order takers instead of innovators, doing just enough to stay employed.
Another well-meaning executive set out to communicate to a team member how much she valued his work. She informed him that she’d planned to add him to a special project team, but was ultimately unable to do so for various reasons. Rather than feeling valued, the team member felt rejected and disappointed by this news. The executive’s approach could have also been misconstrued as self-serving, attempting to gain favor with a hard-working employee that could benefit her down the road, but leave nothing on the table for him. Think about it. How did he benefit from being informed of a role he couldn’t get?
When leaders speak with employees, it’s important to hear those messages from their vantage point. Put yourself in the shoes of a new hire, an employee with 1, 5, 10 years of service, or someone being asked to retire early. How would you interpret the message you’re receiving?
Effective leaders use filters to refine their message down to the most palpable version, making it easier for the recipient to digest.
What do I mean by filters? Consider this. If you are unsure of how your message will be received, take the time to test it on a small group or a trusted colleague. Their feedback acts as a filter, helping to strain out pieces of the message that could potentially be destructive. Asking questions like, “What message did you hear when I said this?” can help you identify opportunities to clarify miscommunication.
Also, consider recording your message on your favorite voice app. Then, play it back. While this doesn’t replace peer feedback, it’s eye-opening to hear our thoughts played back to us. If you cringe, so will they.
Leaders on the move can often only hope that their words are being received the way they intended. But if you want to be sure, a healthy habit is first to slow down and then, watch your body language and the facial expressions of others as you deliver a message. If you are delivering good news, but your employee’s face appears blank or disappointed, that could be a red flag that you’re off target. If you’re laughing and they’re not, that’s a good sign that the situation may not be funny, at least to them. Or, if you’re leaning in, and they’re leaning out, you’ve lost them. Don’t be in such a rush to talk that you miss the deafening silence in the room.
Finally, maintain an open communication policy where feedback is encouraged and expected. No one communicates perfectly all the time, so take that pressure off yourself. But don’t use that as an excuse not to show up and bring your best self to work every day. Become the kind of leader that people know they can talk to and you’ll win them over. The best gift a team member can give to you, and you to them, is feedback.
Are you struggling with effectively communicating with your team? Let's talk.
Showing Gratitude for the Gift of Feedback
May 6, 2019
Relationships, Creating a Force for Good
August 8, 2018
Most of us have experienced a technically competent leader, possibly an expert in his or her field, who seems to consistently miss the mark when it comes to emotional intelligence (EI). EI, sometimes also referred to as “EQ”, is the ability to express and control our emotions and our ability to understand, interpret and respond to the emotions of others. A leader with low EI is unable to regulate their response to external triggers or exhibit concern or interest in those tasked with following their lead. They are often characterized as demanding and aloof, lacking empathy and rarely show gratitude for the effort and work of others, but quickly pounces when they are off target.
Sound like someone you work with? Each one of us has at least one story of someone in our career who blew us off, humiliated us in a meeting, micromanaged our work, broke a confidence, threw a chair in a meeting…okay, maybe not that one specifically, but something that metaphorically can feel that extreme. Leaders with low EI are often highly capable at doing what the job requires yet unable, or perhaps, unwilling, to demonstrate care for others. They may be volatile and unpredictable when under stress. They are less likely to concern themselves with the emotional well-being of those on their team and others.
The costs to an organization of low EI leaders, particularly in executive roles, can be substantial. Yet, they are often dismissed as a cost of doing business , rather than a risk to the business. The good news is there are meaningful ways to quantify the impact of low EI and also effectively manage the behavior.
Let’s take a closer look at what some of those costs are:
The compounding effect of working for or with someone who has low emotional intelligence is that it’s much more difficult to be at our best when we’re adapting to and avoiding these dysfunctional behaviors. Someone with low EI in a leadership position will have the resources and power to make decisions that can cascade tension, drama or worse in the workplace.
All leaders are paid to have productive conversations and remove barriers to good work in order to achieve outcomes for the organization. But leaders suffering from low EI are the barriers. Their presence on the team delay or reduce productivity by creating distractions and fueling dysfunction, as well as negatively impacting learning and development.
Low EI isn’t just a people issue. It has a direct impact on the financial health of the organization. Lower productivity, higher turnover, increased stress, waning engagement, reduced creativity, fewer productive meetings and conversations, and low morale, to name a few, all correlate to low emotional intelligence.
We tend to discount these costs because the solution to addressing this behavior might be difficult conversations and organizational disruption. It may mean losing a talented senior executive who can’t seem to keep his or her department staffed. But if you add up the hours (yours and others’) spent on dealing with drama, re-work, turnover, stress and burnout in the organization, you’ll conclude that avoiding those uncomfortable conversations is costing your company dearly.
3 Ways to Improve Emotional Intelligence
For leaders, if this dynamic sounds familiar to you, then you're taking the first step toward solving the problem. Being self-aware means that you have a pretty good idea, from feedback and experience, of what your emotional triggers and derailers are. Knowing how these “blind spots” affect others is a product of asking for and genuinely listening to feedback:
Self-management means taking steps to actively change dysfunctional behaviors, not making excuses about this being who you are. You may need someone else to help you work through the steps above, as being honest with ourselves isn’t always easy. Executive coaching is a great resource for helping leaders struggling with low emotional intelligence to identify and adopt more productive and positive behaviors to reduce the cost of low EI in the workplace.
Have a question not covered here? I’d love to hear from you. Please send me a note.
Relationships, Creating A Force For Good