Influence and Inspire Through Good Communication

Adapted from What Do You Stand For? by Barbara A Lewis and Pamela Espeland, Free Spirit Publishing, Inc., 1998.

Effective communication skills help you to lead others. You can't be a good leader unless you can effectively communicate what your goal or vision is and how you plan to achieve it. Others need to accept your leadership. This means that they need to trust you. Trust only comes when others feel that they can share their views with you and believe that you will respect their ideas. You must listen as well as speak.

To communicate effectively, a leader:

* Decides what information needs to be communicated and to whom
* Decides when and how to communicate information
* Listens and respects the views of others
* Helps foster communication so that everyone shares ideas and works toward the same goal

As a leader, you need to be comfortable speaking to individuals and groups, both small and large.
When communicating your message, remember the following:

Think about what you want to say -- what key thoughts do you want to communicate? Keep your remarks focused on those thoughts.

To see if you are getting your message across, ask your audience if they understand what you have said. Use non-threatening language like: "Do you know what I mean?" "Do you have any questions?" or "So that I can see if I've been clear, would you repeat what I've just told you?"

When you don't understand a question, ask the questioner what she means, then repeat the question in a different way. In other words, ask "Do you mean..." and paraphrase the question. You want to make sure that you understand the question and give a thoughtful answer.

Show respect for other views by affirming what they're telling you. Say things like "That is a good question" or "That's an interesting idea." Again, you want to develop respectful, trusting relationships.
Think before you speak.

Make sure that your "body language" (posture and movement) matches your message. For example, it would be confusing if you smile while saying something serious. To appear confident, stand tall or sit straight. Stay balanced on both feet and try not to sway. When making a point, lean forward. Don't slouch and don't sit with your arms closed across your chest.

Speak clearly at an even pace. Try not to end your statements with phrases like "you know?" or "you know what I mean". Don't raise your voice at the end of a statement, because this implies that you aren't confident. Vary the loudness or softness of your voice to match your message. This helps to keep your audience focused on the message, not on your behavior.
Hearing what others have to say

In addition to getting your message across, you need to hear what others have to say. Remember, as a leader, you want to encourage others to support you and help you achieve your goal. You do this by gaining trust and confidence; you don't do it by focusing only on you and your needs. To succeed, you need to listen and respect the needs of others. This may mean that you incorporate some of their concerns so everyone is satisfied with the final result of your work.

Here's how to be a good listener:

* Stop talking -- give the speaker your undivided attention.
* Put the speaker at ease -- show that you want to listen.
* Listen for feelings as well as content. Does the speaker want you to respond or does she just need someone to listen?
* Be patient! Not everybody speaks and thinks quickly. Give the speaker time to finish her train of thought.
* Check to see that you have heard the speaker correctly by repeating back what you heard in your own words.
* Share your advice and experience and, if part of a group, ask the others if they have any advice or experiences to share.
* Try not to respond emotionally to comments and points of view that are different from yours. Instead, try to understand where others are "coming from". Remember you don't want to win a disagreement, but lose a key supporter and volunteer at the same time.
* Thank people for sharing their views.