Thursday, July 27, 2017

Getting Respect: Communicating Well

Yes, I note the irony of "communicating well" and posting this quite later than I wanted to...

What you learn quickly in any leadership position is that communication is hard. You may think you're crystal clear on something, only to have your Sailors go off half-cocked on something and bring on unintended consequences.

If you fail to communicate well, you will lose respect because you won't be able to get anything done except through individual effort. Sure, you might be the most capable technician, but if you're being paid to be a leader, you have to get people to carry out your will while you're not there. The only way to do that is good communication.

I am not the world's best communicator, not by any measure. I have learned some tricks though that I find help.

WRITE IT DOWN. Written word is powerful, and yet we often don't encourage enough writing because we're always "in a hurry." Sadly though, the written word often saves us a considerable amount of time. Ever wonder why Commander's Guidance is written and displayed throughout a command? It's because the written word is there, 24/7/365. Any Sailor that walks by will likely scan or read it. If you're smart and put the written word near where people gather (my favorite is by the copy machine), you'll be amazed at how often people will read it out of shear boredom.

REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT. You can't say it enough. I feel like a broken record most days, and yet even when I constantly repeat something, it seems there is still someone who doesn't get it. Before I speak at quarters or walk around my command, I often decide what points I'm going to hit and then tell myself to hit that point 3-4 times when I'm talking. It seems dumb, but when I do that I notice that it sticks longer with Sailors than if I casually mention something.

CONNECT EVERYTHING. Every time I make a decision, I always try to talk to Sailors about why what I decided fits within my Commander's Guidance. Whether it is tying something to your principles, your Captain's Guidance, or big Navy policy, we as humans like to make connections, however tenuous, so tying in what you say to something else helps it be remembered. It honestly makes me feel like an evil genius sometimes, but it works.

BUILD ACTIVE LISTENERS. We often have an image of a great speaker talking to his Sailors, spouting out wisdom that they greedily eat up. In reality, you're probably less like Patton and more just happy when you don't bumble your words and see anyone looking down at their smart phone. You can be a great communicator, but in today's world, it's hard for anyone to capture attention. So you have to build active listeners. I often ask people to both repeat what I said, and then to tell me what they are going to do next. This makes sure they both heard me and then understand where we are going.

Communicating well is hard. You will ALWAYS be struggling to communicate effectively with those around you. The more you communicate, and the more effectively you communicate, the better chance you'll have at earning and keeping respect in the long run.