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How many times has a project or a meeting broken down because of either A) a lack of communication or B) a miscommunication? Unfortunately, this is commonplace and can completely derail conversations, relationships, or projects. What’s more, in the era of work from home, effective communication is getting even trickier. It can be difficult to read body language over Zoom and it’s no longer possible to pop into someone’s office to ask a quick question (thus, making communication that much harder).

How can we strive to improve communication this year? Here are 3 ideas:

1. Practice active listening

There’s a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is physiological and can be passive—we can hear sounds or sentences without bothering to interpret them. Listening, however, is active. It involves hearing and interpreting what you hear. Practice active listening by paying attention and absorbing what others say without formulating a response. Too often we’re so busy thinking about what we want to say, that we do not truly pay attention to the speaker.

2. Ask good questions

Even if you think you understand what’s been said, it’s a good idea to ask clarifying questions. Make sure you understand the who/what/where/how of something, before moving on to the next subject. You might try using the “I think I heard” approach. This approach involves repeating back what you think you heard, and asking if that is correct. For example:

“Just to clarify, it sounds like we are going to be prioritizing XYZ this quarter, is that correct?”

For more on asking good questions, please see this blog post all about clarity.

3. Keep meetings to a minimum

You may already suspect this, but it is NOT necessarily a good thing to have more meetings. People are suffering from meeting burnout (especially lately, with so many video chats). What’s more, according to Harvard Business Review, “meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years, to the point where executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in them, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s.”

That’s outrageous, and it’s completely unnecessary. Instead of focusing on meeting frequency, focus on meeting quality. Create specific meeting goals, make sure everyone knows their roles and responsibilities, and set a time limit for the meeting. If the meeting involves gathering feedback from your team, try challenging everyone to summarize their thoughts in a minute or two. Concision is key!

Lastly, ask yourself if a meeting is actually necessary. What needs to be accomplished? Can it be achieved through a few quick emails? If so, consider skipping the meeting.

Good communication is often hard to come by. Practice good listening, keep an honest and open line of communication, and work to avoid meeting burnout. Effective communication can be truly transformative for a workplace.


MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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*This post was originally published in 2015 and has been modified slightly.

Clarity in Communication

Having clarity comes in two parts. You have to give clarity and ask for clarity. If you are in charge of a project or leading a team, don’t assume that everyone already knows your expectations. Make those expectations clear and leave room for others to ask questions. Put yourself in others’ shoes and anticipate the questions they might ask. Then, practice giving the answers, or at least jot out a few thoughts on how to answer the questions.

On the flip side, if you’re on the receiving end of a project or initiative, don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions. It is much better to make sure your idea of the project’s end state aligns with the actual anticipated end state then to muddle your way through it and hope you’re doing what’s expected of you. One good way to make sure you completely understand your assignment is to repeat back what you think you heard. Something like: “Okay, Bill. It sounds like you’re saying we need to come up with a better social media marketing strategy for product X, and we have two weeks to get you a proposal. Is that correct?”

Having Clarity is one of the chapters in my book, The Ten Minute Leadership Challenge, and I go into much more detail in those pages about how to give and ask for clarity.

I’ve also made a short video about Having Clarity based off the principles outlined in my book. Enjoy!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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Confident conversations and Insights Discovery

It’s possible to have an assertive, confident conversation without seeming pushy or overbearing. When approached tactfully, your self-assured behavior can have a wholly positive effect; it can motivate others to action, resolve conflicts, and bolster your leadership.

Utilize the concepts from the Insights Discovery program (read about this cutting-edge program in a prior blog post) to effectively and confidently talk with people of all communication preferences. No matter if a person is action-oriented, social, analytical and detail-oriented, or highly empathetic, you can use the below model to discuss just about anything with confidence.

1. Present the facts

When the facts are on your side, your confidence will inevitably increase. Laying out what happened from a neutral standpoint will appeal to those who are fact-driven and methodical.

2. Add emotion

Be candid about your feelings. If a certain situation or action made you feel angry or disappointed, let the other party know. Confident people are generally open, including with their emotions. When you put everything out on the table, you intentionally make yourself vulnerable which not only gives you a measure of control over your emotions, but can also help others realize that they, too, can open up.

3. Empathize

When you can relate to others, their confidence in you grows (which, in turn, increases your confidence). While talking with others, take a moment to think about their perspective and empathize. Then, relay your understanding of the other person’s perspective. For instance: “I know your department’s been experiencing some reshuffling. Am I right in assuming that the changes have delayed your team’s project?” Be sure to utilize good listening when tapping into your empathy!

4. Take action

Concluding your conversations with a plan of attack conveys a high level of confidence and competence. Don’t bulldoze others opinions, but also don’t be afraid to make suggestions if you have thoughts or opinions you’d like to share.

A well-rounded conversation includes facts, emotion, empathy, and action. Go into a discussion feeling confident and comfortable that you’ll be able to effectively communicate with anyone, no matter their personality or communication preferences.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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