How you tell someone something can be more important than what’s said. Standing, arms crossed, and stating flatly, “We need to talk” carries a sharp impression to the person you’re speaking to. An email saying, “Come by my office at some point this week. No rush,” offers a more ambiguous situation. Both get a person in your office trying to find out what’s going on.
Communicating clearly and personably is a hallmark of a strong leader. This is not an innate talent: Practice and hard work goes into learning how best to share an idea or goal, and it’s a skill that can take a lifetime to master.
Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to improve, especially when communicating with employees. To help, members of Forbes Coaches Council, below, offer their best advice on how you can stay mindful of your language.
All photos courtesy of the individual member.
From top left to right: Lisa Downs, Alexsys “Lexy” Thompson, Cathy McCullough, Jennifer Oleniczak Brown, LaKisha Greenwade, Anjali Chugh, Maureen Metcalf, Tegan Trovato, Lisa Martin, Andy Bailey, Debora McLaughlin, Loren Margolis, Lizabeth Czepiel, Kelly Meerbott.
1. Use ‘We,’ Not ‘I’
When a leader begins most sentences with “I want,” “I need,” or “I think we should,” then it sends the message that it’s all about you and not about the contributions and perspectives of the team. Instead, use “we” and “us” to foster an environment of teamwork and empowerment. Individual success only goes so far: Leaders get work done through other people. Show it in your word choice. – Lisa Downs Downs Leadership
2. Speak Clearly And Concisely, Then Verify What Was Heard
Leaders can help themselves and their teams by being concise in their communication. Conciseness will often result in clarity, so the other party understands what is being asked and how they can fill the need. Once a leader has communicated, it is very helpful to check with the other party and confirm the message was indeed received as intended. They can re-clarify as needed and move forward with confidence. – Alexsys “Lexy” Thompson Trybal Performance
3. Lead With Questions Versus Solutions
Efficient leaders talk in terms of solutions or rote lists of desired outcomes. Effective leaders teach their people to think strategically, and they do this by asking questions. “How do you think we should move forward?” “What expertise might be needed?” “What thoughts do you have about how to proceed?” “How might we approach this differently?” Leadership is a conversation, not a “to-do” list. – Cathy McCullough McCullough Group LLC
4. Say ‘Yes, And’
“But” is a road block. “But” not only shuts down conversations, it also elevates one person over another. Alternatively, saying “yes and” affirms and elevates. If a person says, “I want to work less,” and it’s not possible, instead of saying “But you can’t,” try saying “Yes, you want to work less, and I don’t think that’s possible, so let’s talk about it.” You’ll affirm and open up conversation. – Jennifer Oleniczak Brown The Engaging Educator
5. Practice Your Nonverbal Communication Skills
Leaders should be mindful that communication includes nonverbal cues, such as body language, gestures and facial expressions. Practice communicating nonverbally and become aware of cues used when giving positive and constructive messages. For instance, consider if your eyebrows raise, you smile, or touch your face when communicating difficult news. Self-awareness is important. – LaKisha Greenwade Lucki-Fit
6. Let Go Of Arrogance
It’s not about what a leader should say or not say. It’s all about his perception of himself, and others working in his company. If he thinks that he’s the be all and end all, then he’ll most certainly treat his employees like trash. Hurtful words will pop out of his mouth every now and then. Words follow thoughts. What needs to be fixed is the thought process; speech is just an offshoot. – Anjali Chugh Cosmique Global Inc
7. Pay Attention To Culture
Each organization has its own set of norms, languages and sweet spots for communication. Learn the norms and stay within them, unless you want to make a point by deviating. If you are new to the organization, listen to the official and unofficial leaders and see what works for them. Pay attention to word choice, tone, pace of speech and acronyms. Experiment based on what you observed. – Maureen Metcalf Metcalf & Associates, Inc
8. Help Employees Understand How The Work Is Aligned To Their Development Plans
As leaders, we often miss the opportunity to tie work assignments back to an employee’s professional development plan. Our employees are hungry for growth opportunities. Saying, “I need you to take on this assignment,” is far different from saying “I have you taking on this assignment because in our last one-on-one, you told me you wanted to get your hands on more strategic work.” – Tegan Trovato Workplace Forward
9. Slow Down, Listen And Think
Many leaders don’t slow down and determine the outcome, such as awareness, adoption or action, that they are seeking from their communication. Leaders need clarity about the message they want to articulate, as well as the best delivery method to give it, such as via phone, in-person or social media. The best leaders listen well, which requires being present, paying attention and asking questions to draw information out of others. – Lisa Martin Lisa Martin International
10. Speak Less And Listen For Understanding
My top recommendation to become more mindful is to say less, in general. Instead, take time to “listen to understand,” rather than just “listen to respond.” Leaders who want to run the show independently occasionally block out advice from their teams, thinking instead that they should be the ones giving the advice. That’s a sure-fire way to break down communication with team members. – Andy Bailey Petra Coach
11. Ask For Accountability
“Who will do what, by when and how will I know?” is the mantra I encourage my clients to say, and say often. If used in every meeting and at the end of every conversation, there is little confusion over accountability. This sentence creates clarity, sets the tone for accountability and eliminates time wasted on micromanaging team members and the disappointment of low accountability. – Debora McLaughlin The Renegade Leader Coaching & Consulting Group
12. Know Your Employees’ Communication Preferences
People have different communication preferences. Some focus on logic, facts and numbers, while others prefer to focus on people and relationships. Some employees need to hear details and a structured step-by-step approach from their leader, and others simply prefer the big picture. Ask your direct reports what they most need to hear from you, then tailor your words and approach to suit their needs. – Loren Margolis Training & Leadership Success LLC
13. Communicate With Transparency And Vulnerability
Employees want to work for leaders who are real, not robotic. Skilled leaders connect with their employees by humanizing their communication and remaining humble. Being open and real fosters an environment where employees feel welcome to bring their full selves to work. Communicating with transparency and vulnerability goes a long way in building employee engagement and, in turn, producing results. – Lizabeth Czepiel Lizabeth Czepiel, LLC
14. Ask Yourself ‘Why Am I Talking?’
When coaching executives, I use the acronym: W.A.I.T., or Why Am I Talking? If leaders use this acronym as the lens through which they communicate to their employees, it will force them to be more mindful. A leader needs to listen more than they talk and be impeccable with their words. Words create our reality, so choose the best and most compassionate ones to communicate with employees. – Kelly Meerbott You: Loud & Clear
This article originally appeared on Forbes.