My 4-year-old son and I play a game called, “Name That Tone.” It goes like this: I say a phrase in either a polite or rude tone of voice and my son has to correctly tell me which tone I am using.
I pick a neutral phrase and let my tone convey the underlying emotion. For example, “May I have some water, please,” sounds polite enough; however, when it is said in a snarky tone with a dramatically sarcastic emphasis on “please” - insinuating an eye roll - it is anything but polite.
It’s surprising how much he loves this game, and it is interesting to watch his physical reactions. When I use a rude tone of voice, his face screws up into a teenager-like posture of rebellion, while his body works to close off by folding arms or turning away.
Conversely, when I say something in a sweet and polite tone, he breaks into one of his contagious smiles and I watch his eyes sparkle.
As simple as this game is, it brings to light something all humans, especially leaders, must pay attention to: how we say what we say is significant.
In fact, I would go so far to state that how we say what we say is way more than what we say.
In a nutshell, body language and tone of voice are paramount.
If a 4-year-old can pick up on tone changes and display physical reactions, what are your colleagues and followers picking up from you?
It saddens me when leaders feel they do not need to work on their communication skills because they don’t want to be fake. “I am who I am. My team knows my style.”
Yes, your team does know your style, and this is why they sometimes shrink in fear from sharing information or asking a question. Just because something is natural does not mean it is automatically conducive to open communication.
One thing a leader can never stop honing is communication skills. Pay attention to how your words and non-verbal behaviors affect those around you.
It is your responsibility to ensure you do not get in the way of your message.
All of us have rough edges in desperate need of polishing. Polishing accentuates what already exists; it doesn’t create something different or uncover a counterfeit.
If you are an authentic leader, you realize honing communication skills shows more of who you are by not letting barriers of conflicting or off-putting styles get between you and your team.
Ways to hone communication skills include:
Reading: The best way to work on your communication style is to immerse yourself in language. Read often and consistently and your communication style will naturally grow.
Asking for feedback: Ask one person on your team for private feedback after they have witnessed you communicate. Obviously, this requires a trusting relationship. If this doesn’t immediately present itself as an option, you have a to-do item to work on trust building.
Listening: It is amazing what you hear when you truly listen! Specifically, hone in on the words and phrases being used and how your emotions respond. Keep a list of words you like and pay attention to words that cause your ears to perk up in a negative way. The more you hone in on how you respond to the communication of others, the more you can improve your communication.
Tweetable: How we say what we say is way more than what we say.