If you’ve ever secretly fantasized about the day when your team members are all both deaf and mute—meaning you’d have to deal with this whole communication thing a lot less frequently—then this Culture Killer installment was custom-built for you, friend.
Before we get into all the things you’re probably doing wrong, let’s be real for a moment: leadership can be hard. Communicating can be hard. Eating chips in moderation can be hard. We do hard things all day long as leaders, and it can feel exhausting to get it right. We’re not after perfection, though, so let’s put this in perspective: if you can pick one thing in the list below that you’d like to brush up on and even get just 7% better at, then you’re on the road to recovery success. One message at a time. Anything in this list look eerily familiar?
- You sent out the email with that very important message everyone’s all tied up in a knot about, so… AREN’T WE DONE HERE?
- Speaking of emails—oh, the myriad of electronic mail crimes. Let’s take a collective deep breath here. You fire off an email to your team with your comments on the quarterly expense review and then realize a few minutes later that you missed a point, so send another email. A few minutes later you send an additional email with an observation and then follow it up with a question you meant to ask in the previous email, so the group is randomly responding to any one of your four emails, out of order, missing the most current conversational bits.
- You email your team at bizarre hours and because you’ve never actually said, “Hey guys, don’t worry about responding to me at 3:45 am or on Saturday evenings,” so your team feels obligated to look committed (and their spouses all stick pins in voodoo dolls of your likeness).
- You send an email to tell Edward that he needs to improve his performance, which is news to him, especially since you just met with him last night to talk about the T&E budget. “Why didn’t he talk to me about it?” wonders Edward, who is confused, demotivated, and can’t help but think you’re a communication coward.
- Communication for you is a one-way street—where it’s you with the information to impart—and somehow you expect the humans you work with to be okay with that. Listening isn’t really your thing (and when you do listen, you’re just formulating a response in your head and can’t wait to blurt it out).
- You interrupt people. (Nothing else needs to be said here because I’m thinking it’s just so obvious that this is a hideous habit that must be broken, at this moment. For the love of God, please fix this broken part of yourself. No judgment though!)
- You keep leaving voicemails for your team and don’t pick up on the fact that they’re all either texting or using Slack, so shame on you for essentially speaking a foreign language to them. (It’s like you’re leaving long, annoying messages in Hungarian on their voicemails that they never want to listen to. Except for the new Hungarian intern.)
- You hire Jean—who is the most important new hire you’ve made in 18 months and is the key to reaching your super-secret strategy—and you don’t tell most of your team about it in advance. Jean shows up and feels like a fifth wheel, and the rest of your senior team feels seriously out of the loop, threatened, and possibly homicidal.
- Randi, the only senior team member who did know about Jean’s arrival, lords it over the others in a lame attempt to appear superior, so now you’ve created a monster.
- Jin in HR suggests you host a “Fireside Chat” for people to learn more about what’s going on the company. You approve the initiative because you love s’mores and then get miffed when you show up to no actual fire, no Hershey’s, and the need to talk about what’s going on in a way that won’t make all your A-players update their LinkedIn profiles.
- You only communicate with people when you need something from them, which would make Dale Carnegie (who wrote the must-read classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People”) roll over in his grave. (RIP, Dale. RIP.)
- You insist that the message delivered in the monthly Town Hall meeting gets watered down because you think the team can’t handle the fact that your Q1 results were deplorable. You get up with your fake smile and dead eyes and bullshit message and wonder why they make a mocking meme of you afterward.
- It would never occur to you to not be saying things, all of the time. You are either leading the entire conversation, chiming in, or chiming in on others’ chime-ins. The idea that the best leaders are the ones not so much with the answers—but with the best questions—never really landed on you in business school. (You were too busy talking, maybe?)
- Everyone loves a good story, but you can’t communicate even the simplest point without telling them “about that time when…” They’ve either heard it before or don’t want to hear about how the whole Y2K thing went down.
- You’re a big “but” fan. (Ew, don’t be gross.) You cut whatever your team says down to size with the ever-contradictory “but”– like in yesterday’s marketing meeting: “Yes, I see what you mean about that SEO initiative, but we still have work to do on SEM”. You also pepper but’s equally discounting cousin “however” into many a disheartening conversation.
- Every time Miranda is in your office for a one-on-one meeting, your words say, “Tell me more, I’m so very interested,” and your body language screams, “How much longer until you stop talking?” because you’re responding to incoming emails—but only the really important ones.
- You’re flummoxed because Kurt somehow got the impression that you didn’t want to go to the evening team building event, even though you technically said the words, “Yes, I’m going.” (Kurt wasn’t a moron to intuit through your put-upon tone that you’d rather be scalped than play whirly ball with the group.)
- As a young buck, your boss never shared a single important thing with you… so instead of breaking the pattern of abuse lack of communication, you carry the torch of secrecy and keep your people in the dark. Hoarding information helps you to feel in control and important, so you won’t be forthright any time soon in your pursuit of the Iron Throne.
- Since you’ve been Ziploc-tight-lipped about the whole “right-sizing” initiative, in the absence of information your people are filling in the blanks with all the wrong/ salacious/ scary stuff, and you’re puzzled why productivity is down and everyone’s so on edge.
- “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Your team thinks Mark Twain said this about you, albeit a few years ago. Brevity isn’t your strongest quality.
- You over-communicate– so everyone is cc’d on everything, everyone knows how much you prepared for the board meeting, the whole team is aware of what you really think of the accounting department, and everyone knows about your 6:30 pm waxing appointment. TMI, FYI. Also, this means your team has a harder time figuring out the very high priority vs day-to-day stuff.
- You consider information a privilege, and you’re not going to share with the new hires until they’ve paid their dues.
- Reading articles about AI makes you froth at the mouth, imagining a reality where you get to program your team and don’t have to consider squishy things like feelings, letting people in on things, and ice cream socials. Oh, the joys of leadership! Definitely not for everyone.
On one hand, I feel bad for writing such a long list, and on the other, I feel bad for not even putting a dent in the topic of culture killing + communication. It’s a freaking landmine.
So often we think that by sharing information we’ve done our job as leaders… and the truth is that there is a lot more to the whole sender-receiver thing. It’s our job to ensure that the information is getting through to our people, and that requires some kind of functional relationship, which is where TLC comes in. It does take a little more effort, a little more care. And it’s worth it.
I’m signing off now because the irony of overdoing a piece on communication would be just too much for me to handle.
P.S.: Substitute “and” for “but” and watch everything change.
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