5 Communication Habits to Drop as You Step into Leadership
As published in the Spokane/CDA Journal of Business
Women leaders bring tremendous strengths, insight and value to the workplace. But let’s face
it, we still face a number of barriers.
As a result of centuries of social and cultural programming, seeds individually planted as early
as childhood, many of us have developed some behaviors and habits that may not best serve us
in the work environment. Below we will explore some of those traits and habits. Keep in mind,
we are all different. We all participate in these to great or lesser degrees and some of us not at
all. Not to be dismissed as stereotypes, these are behaviors that have been observed and
documented in the American workplace.
In positioning ourselves for leadership or stepping into a leadership role, it is worth examining
our own habits and determine if some of those habits may be working against us. After
researching a variety of problematic behaviors, I narrowed it down to five that appear to be the
most common pitfalls. Let’s take a look at how they show up and what we might be able to do
differently. Reflecting strength and authenticity in our leadership style.
Communicating Indirectly–One of the most common offenders is a tendency to use what are
called “softening devices”. We hedge our communication by starting our emails with words like
“just” and questioning phrases such as “Hey when you get a chance”. The problem with this
type of communication is that it lacks assertiveness and authority, diminishing its effectiveness.
Often this leads us to having to send a second email or make a follow up phone call that could
have been avoided had the initial communication been more direct.
What should we do instead? Simple, drop the softening words. Drop the questions. Make a
polite but firm request. It is important to have a sense of the communication styles of those you
work with, so tailor it accordingly but practice what Arianna Huffington calls “compassionate
directness”. You will find it yields better results.
Downplaying Achievements–Women in particular have discomfort surrounding what we may
view as self-promotion. We believe our accomplishments and hard work should speak for itself.
And wouldn’t it be wonderful if it always worked that way? We say things like “Oh it was fun,”
or, “It was no big deal”. The issue with presenting your achievements in this way is it devalues
those achievements. It then makes our actual role in the project or contribution to an
acquisition for example, unclear.
What should we do instead? Take pride in your achievements. This doesn’t mean being
boastful or obnoxious; give yourself permission to be proud of an accomplishment. Taking a
moment to be proud goes a long way in helping us stay motivated to take on the next
challenge. It is critical to recognize others’ contributions, but be sure to paint an accurate picture. Be specific and direct about your role. Look at it as if you were in a position to hire
someone, wouldn’t you want clear, unambiguous information with which to work?
Perfectionism addiction–Many of us seek to attain perfection in all that we do. But at what
cost? Perfectionism is ultimately about control, and when we fall short, we feel powerless. That
can be a disheartening cycle.
What should we do instead? Strive for excellence but let go of the attachment to perfection.
The Greek translation for perfection is “complete”. So, we may be better served to do it right,
be complete and release ourselves from the excess pressure.
So many apologies--How many time does the word “sorry” pass you lips in a given day? Are you
apologizing for things that are completely out of your control? Many of us inadvertently use an
apology as a conversational ritual, to help build rapport. Excessive and unnecessary apologies
do not support a perception of strength which can lead to limited opportunity and influence.
What to do instead–There are other much more effective ways to build rapport.
Wholeheartedly apologize and take responsibility when you make a mistake but let the
recognition and changed behavior do the talking.
Good old-fashioned body language–One of the behaviors many women slip into is delivering
nonverbal communication that doesn’t support a position of strength and confidence. Arms
folded, avoiding eye contact, taking a seat in the corner of the boardroom. You may have
brilliant input and tremendous knowledge of your subject, but if your body language says
otherwise, body language wins every time. The two need to be in alignment for your words to
come across with strength and credibility.
What to do instead–Use strong eye contact, (all non-verbal communication varies within the
context of cultural influences), shoulders back, speak with conviction and take your rightful seat
at the table. Use your physical presence to support your brilliance. The messaging will come
across much more powerfully.
Each individual’s journey to leadership is a unique experience. We may or may not be tripping
ourselves up by participating in these particular behaviors. The important action is to develop a
leadership style that is authentic and uniquely yours.