Many leaders think they’re doing a terrific job of communicating with their teams, but leaders fall short in all sorts of ways, as shown in the graph below from “The Top Complaint’s from Employees About Their Leaders” survey.
In my role as facilitator between company executives and senior candidates and employees, I see communication breakdowns all the time. It’s one thing to be a passive observer to this weakness, and quite another to watch it from the perspective of a loving father.
My 26-year-old son is a carpenter’s apprentice. He lives in a world of uncertainty, working with small or mid-size contractors who have projects with challenging clients who sometimes pay on time/sometimes not. These are entrepreneurs, just like heads of the tech firms that I recruit and consult for, and their communications weaknesses are just as evident… regardless of education level.
My son was recently ‘ghosted’ by the company’s owner. In today’s urban slang, the definition of ghosting is ‘to be ignored, or not having anyone respond to your opinion and disregarding your remark, leaving you feeling insignificant’
There is nothing more demeaning or demotivating than being ignored by someone above you. This is someone who holds your life in their hands.
I struggle to understand why anyone, especially a leader, would want to treat another person with such disrespect. I know it happens. I’m a big boy and I can handle it. To have it done to my son makes me seethe.
Completely ignoring someone where a relationship already exists is never OK.
Taking for granted, that you do communicate with some degree of effort and effectiveness, here are some suggestions that might make both parties more satisfied and ultimately more productive.
Ask for their word of honour.
When you want to solidify a commitment, try asking the individual to to back their promise with his or her word of honour. Look them in the eye and say, “Now do I have your word that you’ll do that, no matter what?” When people give their word of honour, it’s a deeper level of commitment than a simple “Mmhm, or yes.”
Ask them to summarize the commitment.
Have the person summarize back to you what will be done, backtracking, and clarifying while letting them give you the details. You say something like, “I want to make sure you and I both understand how this will be done. Could you describe to me what you will do and when?”
Get it in writing.
It’s never a bad idea to get things in writing. Beyond documenting an agreed course of action, there is something about the physical act of writing down a commitment that makes it easier to remember and more likely to be acted on.
Describe negative consequences.
Try pointing out the possible negative consequence of not keeping the commitment. To be most effective, put them in terms of people and relationship. “Now let’s imagine it is Wednesday at 10:23 and this project you’ve agreed to do doesn’t get done. How is everyone going to feel around here who was depending on you?”
P.S. If you’ve been guilt of ghosting someone, in the immortal words of the comedian, Bob Newhart, here’s a video clip entitled Just Stop it. You’re way better than that!