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The most important skill for any leader to have is the ability to communicate effectively.

This means clearly articulating a vision, connecting with people in a way that promotes understanding and listening to really hear what people have to say. Six obstacles limit effective communication:

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  1. Moving too fast, which can happen due to overreliance on email and texting.

  2. Listening too little.

  3. Failing to show respect for others.

  4. Making assumptions about what others know or understand.

  5. Ignoring the importance of nonverbal communication.

  6. Not checking for understanding.

A key aspect of effective communications is asking the right questions at the right time. There are two kinds of questions:

  1. Closed questions: Questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”These questions convey minimal information.

  2. Open questions: Questions that begin with journalists’ words: who, what, when, where, and why. Open questions produce more information and can be followed by phrases such as “tell me more,” to solicit more information.

The Johari Window, a communications model developed by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham, stresses the two-way nature of communication. Exposure, on the vertical axis of the window, is the measure of how well communicators let others know what is going on in their minds. Feedback, on the horizontal axis, measures how well communicators are receiving and understanding what is going on in the other party’s head.

There are 10 approaches that can help leaders increase the amount and effectiveness of their exposure. Leaders must:

  1. Be sure their specific concerns are clear by describing specific situations and how they reacted.

  2. Never assume they know what others are thinking or feeling.

  3. Be careful not to convey a judgment — positive or negative — of other people’s characters.

  4. Give concrete examples of what they mean.

  5. Give information rather than advice.

  6. Tailor their conversations to the receivers’ needs.

  7. Check for understanding.

  8. Avoid overloading receivers with information beyond what they can handle and use.

  9. Be level with receivers without “leveling” them.

  10. Maintain their sense of humor and be willing to laugh at themselves.

Listening is a very important part of effective communication. People engage in four types of listening:

  1. Physical listening: The listener is bodily present, but not really paying much attention to what is going on.

  2. Tape listening: The listener is not really interested in what the other person is saying, but is just attentive enough to be able to repeat back word for word what has been said if asked.

  3. Judgmental listening: The listener is developing a rebuttal rather than seeking to understand what the other person is saying.

  4. Active listening: The listener is 100 percent present, with a goal of understanding and not necessarily agreeing.

Active listening is the preferred listening style. One tool to help achieve this is paraphrasing, or repeating what the other party has said in an accurate and neutral summary. The second is reflection, or acknowledging the feelings or emotions the other party has conveyed. In both paraphrasing and reflection, it is important for people not to sound condescending or to give the impression that a technique is being employed.

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