“The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply.” ― Roy T. Bennett
Through my career in the sport industry, I have been deeply influenced by coaching greats and their best practices. From the legendary leaders such as John Wooden of UCLA basketball to Bill Belichick of Patriots football, from title-collecting Pia Sundhage of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team to record-setting linebacker coach Jen Welter with the Cardinals.
Outside of knowing their game and having a knack for strategy, one thing great coaches have in common is excellent soft skills. Outstanding coaches can bolster player confidence, motivate others, build unity, and even change the entire atmosphere of a team.
Most of all, they can communicate effectively.
In my experience, the vast majority of coaches tend to falter in this area to an extent. Some take to blaming players immediately. Many cannot properly express expectations. Others cannot unify a team. And then there are people who simply aren’t cut out for coaching at all.
As the cliché goes, the sport and business worlds do hold uncanny similarities. Communication in leadership is no exception.
Coach John Wooden, who is revered in the sport industry, was a strong proponent of self-assessment. In his opinion, everyone is responsible for his or her own circumstances. When we resort to blaming others, we can no longer successfully audit ourselves, and, thus, we surrender our control.
“Without proper self-evaluation, failure is inevitable.” — John Wooden
Although audits may remind those of us in the business world of unpleasant experiences involving attorneys, accountants, and government agencies, setting aside time for regular self-assessment of your own skills and habits as a leader can drastically improve your team’s productivity and atmosphere.
Here are three common missteps in communication style that I have noticed since working across sport and business party lines:
Although micromanagement and unquestionable last words can be alluring, the controlling style of communication can be extensively damaging to teams and organisations. Not only does it inherently restrict your staff’s freedom for creativity in their work, but it also negates their responsibility for their work. The leader states the command and the employee carries out the labor.
Your team becomes accountable only by association, instead of being invested in their work.
One-way communication also tends to limit the applicability of ideas to consumers. Such message often can no longer be adapted to any circumstance outside of its original intent.
Consider that communication is multi-directional. If you find that you monologue (read: preach) often and get little response before your staff quietly goes about their work again, you may have a habit of inadvertently controlling. Try asking for feedback from several individuals in your staff or audience who you feel are competent and bought into your company’s vision.
“Arrogant men with knowledge make more noise from their mouth than making a sense from their mind.” ― Amit Kalantri
When influencers or leaders talk condescendingly to their staff or audience, it’s commonly based in deeply-rooted insecurity that soothes itself through arrogance. However, depending on one’s platform size, this can sound drastically more absurd and unnerving.
Everyone has something they are passionate for, successful in, and knowledgable about. It’s important for leaders to know their niche and speak to it confidently and directly, but it is also vital to know how to guide others appropriately who do not have the same knowledge and experience.
At the end of the day, arrogance might attract some people (often those who view it as charisma instead of pretension), but it turns many off. It will most likely make your staff resent you, as it tends to invoke a level of shame or discouragement in others, and is simply negative for your audience.
If you’re not sure whether you’re talk to or down to others when addressing them, ask. They know. Should you find yourself coming off a bit too arrogant, try a more hands-on approach to teaching (instead of soapbox pontificating) by getting on your audience’s level.
While being a bit scatterbrained is not a crime (and we would all be guilty!), constantly offering incomplete thoughts or instructions to your staff or audience can be frustrating.
Not only does it cause confusion and, often, potential misunderstanding as to your actual vision as a leader, but it is also a time-suck for those who have to piece together your loose-ended thought patterns to make them functional.
If you tend to be scattered and unorganised more often than not, treat yourself to some new office supplies, ranging anywhere from Post-It Notes to a whiteboard to an Alexa. Take an extra five minutes before meetings to get your thoughts together, review your notes, or let someone brief you on updates. Your coworkers and clients will thank you.
Remember, audits aren’t always a bad thing.
Self-awareness and authenticity win the long game when it comes to leadership and success; this is certainly the case with entrepreneurship. Our communication styles must constantly evolve and improve as our knowledge of self grows and experiences expand us. You owe it to yourself, your staff and your audience to take deep, honest looks at your habits on the regular.