I read an interesting yelp review of a medical professional the other day. The reviewer said the medical professional was competent, but “had all the personality of cardboard.  ”Rating? 1 star!

Essentially, the reviewer was making a comment about both “hard skills”– the technical and job-related competencies and abilities that are necessary to do the work; and “softskills” - those personal qualities that impact how you work. And, research is very clear that our ability to thrive, to be effective, and to even advance our careers is far more dependent upon our “soft skills.”

Perhaps the most important soft skill any leader ought to be focused on developing is communication. And, that is because how you communicate permeates every aspect of your career (and your personal life!) Research indicates that poor communication skills are the root cause of 80% of problems in most workplaces. If you have ever reported to a leader with extremely poor communication, you know how true those findings are.  As a leader, you might be determined to improve your own “soft skills’, starting with your communication. However, it is such a BIG part of success, it can often be difficult to know how or where to start. With that in mind, here are a few easy things you can do that can help you be more personable (not like cardboard), more approachable, and more successful in your leadership role.

  • Stop “Kathy works for me” and start “Kathy works with me.” As leaders, when we introduce someone on our team as working with us, it implies that we value and respect them. It can help our team members feel “part of” the team and also implies that we, as leaders, don’t set ourselves above or apart from our team. This is a small and easy change that can make a big difference.
  • Stop “does anyone have any questions?” and start “what may I clarify?” If you are looking to increase engagement and participation in meetings or group discussions, changing “does anyone have any questions?” to “what may I clarify?" can make a big difference. The former is a closed-ended question while the latter is an open-ended question. Open-ended questions invite far more participation.  Also, “what may I clarify?” puts the responsibility for any confusion or missed pieces on you, the speaker and leader, instead of shifting it to the listener or team members. Another small change that can result in better communication and results along with enhanced teamwork and engagement.
  • Stop “are you busy” and start “is now a good time to talk”. As leaders and team members when we ask “are you busy?” we may unintentionally insult someone or trigger defensiveness. The question may imply we don’t think they work hard or are doing anything important. This is, obviously, not the message we wish to send. By asking, “is now a good time to talk?” we imply that we are aware they are busy. It is a message of respect. And, we don’t risk anyone misinterpreting our intent and becoming offended or defensive. As a bonus, it also is a message of empowerment because it implies that we, as leaders, are aware that those we lead are in charge of their own time and are not always at our beck and call.

Making these small and easy changes and improving the “soft skill” of communication can make you a more personable leader, a more effective leader, a more empowering leader – the kind of leader others aspire to be. It boosts accountability, enhances your career trajectory, and much, much more.