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Abstract: Communication

Communication is a core skill for successful leaders. Effective communication includes speaking, writing, listening, and matching words and actions. Leaders speak many times a day, so achieving outcomes is important (e.g., educate, motivate, persuade). Such communications entail (1) technology such as emails, presentations, and text messages, used judiciously to augment personal communications; (2) active listening skills (the most important leadership skill), verbal and nonverbal responses, and understanding; (3) employee feedback, gathered via surveys and focus groups; and (4) body language, which can be misinterpreted if verbal and nonverbal messages are mixed or unique speaker signals are unclear.

What Are You Trying to Communicate?

To craft a message, distill it down to one or two sentences and then develop a clear, consistent, and accurate message. Useful tools include talking points, consistent scripts, and frequently asked questions

(FAQs) and answers. This approach applies to sharing good news. For bad news, the organizational leader might need to respond to media questions and thus should prepare talking points and FAQs in advance, possibly send them to the media, and consider seeking media training. Because good news does not travel as quickly as bad news, the leader should reach out to internal and external media contacts.

Who Is Your Audience?

Understanding the audience is key to tailoring more effective communications, which require not only conveying information but also developing relationships and building trust. Research shows that audiences would rather hear from people in their own group (or someone who understands their concerns) and can mistrust people from other groups, especially if workplace stability is threatened; audiences also react negatively to a communicator who is defensive or manipulative. For oral presentations, a leader should not read the speech and should maintain eye contact and be prepared to answer questions—and thus should invest considerable time and effort in preparation and practice. Written communications require comparable attention to clarity of content, tailored messages, and audience concerns.

How Does Your Audience Receive Information?

The right format is important for a message to reach the intended audience. Facilities leaders work with diverse constituencies, many generations, and varying familiarity with digital communication, so leaders must use a range of tools (e.g., email blasts, brown bags, training, onsite help, mentors). Leaders can send messages via tools such as social networking (e.g., Facebook and Twitter); websites (first source for many users), which must be maintained and updated; written communications (most common), using multiple departmental channels, soliciting employee feedback, and widely distributing reports; community outreach (to foster town-gown trust), such as town halls to discuss future plans; and oral communications, such as regular meetings (because more than half of an intended message is conveyed nonverbally).

When Should You Contact Your Audience

The political work environment drives the timing of message delivery. Leaders must be decisive but also encourage a natural dialogue process within the organization so that others can reach conclusions, own results, and grow as employees. For department news, supervisors should be notified before information is publicized. Each organization has a unique communication hierarchy that must be observed to identify decision-makers and to manage and meet expectations. When dealing with the media on issues when timing can be controlled, leaders should assess whether and when to release information. For university news, electronic and social media can distribute messages quickly, especially for sensitive issues.

Kinds of Communications

Leaders hold a variety of conversations, including (1) caring conversations (and advance preparation) for timely and empathetic delivery of stressful information such as critical feedback, discipline, demotion, or reduction in force; (2) crucial conversations about sensitive topics when a lot is at stake, opinions vary, or emotions run high); (3) customer conversations, which require sincere interest, active listening in face-to-face interactions (e.g., focus groups), knowledge of underlying issues, appropriate responses, and follow-up (and updates) through closure; (4) contractor and vendor conversations, such as managing vendors that want to market to the facilities department, depending on type of contract; and (5) executive conversations, such as PowerPoint presentations to high-level executives to update them or secure approval for projects.

Transparency and Confidentiality

Transparency is a key attribute of an ethical organization, which has clear roles, defines responsibilities, makes sure that rules are understood, fosters trust, and openly discusses situations and processes. It encourages dissenting employee views, and full transparency is expected, required, and practiced in handling employee issues. A reputation for credible leadership depends on building transparent cultures where bad news is safe to discuss. However,  in  some  cases,  transparency  must be balanced with confidentiality while ensuring that rumors do not undermine employee trust. In a tough situation, always deliver the news in person; be transparent and deliver as much information as possible; allow the audience to ask questions and provide input; and deliver bad news as soon as possible.

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