My first introduction to communication effectiveness was shortly after I got my first professional management role in the early 1990s. My business coach and mentor Dr. Peter Gregg suggested, in his gentle way, that my communication effectiveness was coming up short. It was holding me back as a team leader.
Dr. Gregg encouraged me to read a book called L.E.T. Leadership Effectiveness Training by Dr. Thomas Gordon. Reading this book sparked a life-long interest in leadership and communication effectiveness. It has literally shaped every facet of my life since.
The book changed my understanding of the subject and my communication practices more than any other reading or training I’ve done since. It affected my career development, how I run my business and interact with clients and colleagues, my parenting; how I deal with conflict; and how I approach sales and marketing. I can’t think of a book that has had more of an impact on my way of being.
I recommend the book to people all the time. And I just realized I’ve never written a post about it or the topic of communication effectiveness before—time to rectify that omission.
What is Communication Effectiveness?
Business Jargon defines it aptly as “a communication between two or more persons wherein the intended message is successfully delivered, received and understood.”
They add that “…communication is said to be effective when all the parties (sender and receiver) in the communication assign similar meanings to the message and listen carefully to what all have been said and make the sender feel heard and understood.”
Effective communication is far more involved than simply trying to speak directly and unambiguously. The goal is to understand whether effective communication has occurred in a manner that does not create or escalate the conflict.
Validating mutual understanding without generating conflict, was not at all how I approached communication as a leader.
Why is Communication Effectiveness Important for Business Leaders?
When you boil any company down, what you’re left with is people. You’re selling to, serving, or collaborating with other people. Your ability to lead your people and their ability to communicate effectively with each other and your clients is about as fundamental as it gets.
And yet, darn few companies invest much time and effort to develop communication skills, and it shows. More than anything, your communication translates into the experience people have with you.
In the marketing world, the experience you create for staff and clients is called branding. It’s not your logo; it’s about the experience people have and the resulting reputation you develop over time.
The bulk of that reputation is built upon human-to-human interactions. For these interactions to be effective, they need to leave people feeling welcome, heard, and understood.
If you care about sales, profitability, and the experience you create, as well as your culture, morale, retention, efficacy, and productivity, then communication effectiveness needs to find its way onto your leadership and corporate development priority list.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
With the current political correctness, public shaming, and cancel culture in play, combined with the ease and speed of the internet, you can no longer afford to ignore poor communication practices. The risks associated with ineffective communication has gone through the roof.
Becoming an inclusive organization, at the core, occurs through effective communication practices. Without it, investments into diversity, equity and inclusion training are academic.
Good intentions don’t translate into respectful conversations. People need to develop real practical leadership and communication skills to change how they interact with others.
You can educate people about bias and micro-aggressions all you want, but without respect-based communication skills, people may struggle to implement what they learn.
Personal and Organizational Performance
Communication effectiveness forms the root of your organizational effectiveness as well. Ineffective communication creates waste, delays, and hard feelings that escalate into conflict and worse.
Back to the L.E.T. Book
I recall when I first read L.E.T. and learned about the 12 communication roadblocks. I was frustrated to realize I was regularly using all 12 of them. Despite busting my butt to communicate with my team, I was doing everything wrong. At that time, these roadblocks were all I knew.
It became clear if I wanted to be a leader and an effective consultant, I needed to develop some new skills.
L.E.T. offered a highly effective alternative. The book introduced me to Active Listening, Confrontive I-Messages, Problem Ownership and the concept of The Behaviour Window. It was truly an aha experience. It gave me a new way to think about and practice communicating with people. And it was easy. It was based on respect and accountability. The best thing about it was how well it worked. I was sold.
Shortly after being introduced to the methodology, my wife became a certified trainer in the approach. We used it for communicating with each other and as the basis for our parenting. It sparked a revolution in personal growth for our family.
What Came Next?
I learned that communication effectiveness is a big subject with many facets. I was hooked and went looking for more. The most important resources I encountered as a result of L.E.T. included:
- The Socratic Method. It’s so old and yet such a powerful communication practice. It’s based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and is relevant to modern coaching practices. For a practical reference on asking questions, have a look at The Coaching Habit by Michael Stanier.
- Learning how to delegate effectively from a book called: If you want it done right, you don’t have to do it yourself by Donna M. Genett PhD.
- Learning the depths of what accountability means through the Landmark Forum and The Being A Leader and the Effective Exercise of Leadership Program.
- Learning about the Sandler Pain Funnel and the SPIN framework for understanding how to crawl into someone else’s world and really understand their context.
- Learning to negotiate from a book called Getting To Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury.
- The Kolbe Instinctive Strengths Assessment. It talks about how different people are in how they approach work and their decision making.
- Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Master Your Emotions by Thibaut Meurisse and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy by Seth J. Gillihan, PhD. These topics have more to do with communication practices than you might realize.
The Bottomline on Communication Effectiveness
I’ve been learning about effective communication for over 20 years. But it does not take 20 years to learn. What you need is context and a roadmap to understand how to approach the learning.
Developing random communication skills is not enough. To be effective, you need context.
The skills themselves are simple once you see how the pieces fit together. Unfortunately, we’re presented with bits and pieces of the communication puzzle out of context. We find random puzzle pieces from time to time, but we have no picture of how the pieces fit together.
People need a guide—a coach to provide context and skills development to lead them down the communication effectiveness path.
Although I know several experts in specific areas of communication, I only know one person who leads people through the entire communication effectiveness journey—Laura Watson of Venture Coaching.
Okay, I’m biased because I’m married to Laura. However, that does not change the fact that I have not encountered another full-spectrum communication coach. Laura has made business leadership and communication effectiveness her life’s work. She drives me nuts with the consistency of her communication practices.
Although I’ve done similar learning, I’ll never be as focused and effective at guiding people through the day-to-day practice of effective communication as she is.
Learning effective communication skills transformed my business leadership, my marriage, and my parenting. If you or your leaders want to take on the communication effectiveness journey, I recommend you start by reading L.E.T. Dive into the other resources I’ve listed and engage a leadership and communication effectiveness coach to guide the way. You’ll greatly expedite the learning and the results that come from your effort and investment.