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The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership conference was kicked off for me with a morning session with the folks from Imprensia, Leah Lorendo and Thomas Gregory. The following thoughts are not “chapter and verse” of their presentation, but those points that made an impression on me. I divided the workshop content into three elements that are key to communicating in business, personal life and everywhere in between.

  1. Self-awareness
    By and large, leaders believe they are good communicators. In a recent survey, 93% of leaders said they are great at communicating. The irony is that when the same question was asked of the people those leaders were communicating with, only 11% said the leader was good at communicating. Realizing you aren’t an effective communicator is one thing, seeking to improve is another. Unfortunately, usually when someone is seeking to improve, they ask for feedback from listeners after the fact rather than during a conversation or presentation. As well, when asked, people will usually give positive feedback and with generic phrases like, “you did a good job” or “the content was interesting.” You have two options here. Either ask for specific feedback on one or two elements of your communication (e.g., eye contact or vocal tone) or rely on your own assessment by using recordings to observe the look, feel and sound of your communication.
  2. Barriers to communication
    The presenters listed these three common barriers to communication: introversion, overconfidence and brusqueness. The most interesting one of the three is brusqueness. The dictionary definition of “brusque” includes being discourteously blunt. However, in today’s technology-driven society, I also observe brusqueness when people speak in sound bites and headlines. We do this in electronic communication and this has spilled over into verbal communication too. Using this terse form of communicating limits our expression and leaves much open for misinterpretation. A fourth barrier to effective communication is what I call “content killers.” These can dilute the message or kill it all together, and include things like:

Fast talking
Non-committal words like “perhaps”, “maybe”, “hope”
Filler words repeated over and over such as “you know” and “like”
Meaningless expressions
Acronyms in place of descriptive terms

3.  Communication is made up of 7% content and 93% everything else

    Feeling/emotion – Believe it or not, what you are feeling as a communicator is also felt to some degree by those you are communicating with, including how     you feel towards the other person. Albert Einstein said, “I speak to everyone the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the                  university.” Incorporating compassion and focus towards the person or group you’re communicating with can make a tremendous difference.

Visual cues – Matching your content and delivery is key even when saying a simple “hello.” Our body language and facial expression make up a big part of these cues and being intentional about how we communicate visually can make all the difference. Remember, our visual cues trump content. How we say it is more important than what we say.

Vocal distinction – Vocal quality, variation and distinction can make our communication memorable or forgettable. An important question to ask is, “How can I make this easier on the listener?” This might include pronunciation of words (especially vowels), volume variation, inflection and pace.

Which one of these parts of communication stands out for you and what will you commit to exploring further as you become an extraordinary leader?


Jeff Harmon

Jeff Harmon is the president of Brilliance Within Coaching & Consulting which specializes in developing servant leaders while helping them translate their strategies into actionable plans that drive business results. Jeff is the author of “The Anatomy of a Principled Leader.” Jeff has been developing leaders for nearly 20 years and has led the execution of over 100,000 hours of business strategy for information technology, financial services and non-profit organizations.

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