Communication is defined by two words… “all behavior.” In other words, there is nothing that any of us do, or don’t do, that is not considered communication. In other words, because communication is defined as including “all behavior,” it is impossible to not communicate! [Yes, that last sentence was a “double-negative.”]
As most of us have learned, at it’s basic level, communication is the process of sending and receiving messages to one another through verbal and non-verbal channels. Verbal communication is transmitted through spoken messages that include words, statements, and in some cases, written or electronically generated texts. Non-verbal communication includes messages that are behaviorally transmitted—like gestures, facial expressions, signals, etc. Communication experts tell us that 10-15% of all messages are communicated verbally; where as, non-verbal messages represent about 85-90% of the messages we transmit.
Effective communication is necessary for people, teams, groups, and organizations to thrive and flourish. When communication processes are working well, positive outcomes like increased productivity, increased employee commitment and trust, better relationships, increased profits, and customer satisfaction are the resulting outcomes. On the other hand, when communication goes awry, breakdowns in efficiency and effectiveness result—and in some cases, the outcomes are much worse (e.g., injuries).
From a leadership point of view, there are a number of critically important dimensions associated with messages that are communicated. Briefly, here are some important ones to consider:
MESSAGE VALENCE: Valence refers to message being interpreted by the receiver as either positive or negative. Positive messages are emotionally uplifting, supportive, encouraging, reinforcing, and rewarding. In contrast, messages that are negative tear employees down, are hostile, emotionally toxic, critical, accusatory, and blaming. In the context of working relationships (e.g., manager and employee), leadership messages that are interpreted as positive have the greatest ability to increase winning outcomes like employee productivity, confidence, morale, engagement, satisfaction, and discretionary effort. On the flip side, a boss’s messages that are interpreted negatively by an employee can lower motivation, contribute to incivility, increase frustration, cause withdrawal, and in some cases, a serious intention to leave the organization. Common leadership sense (and experience) teaches us that higher ratios of positive to negative approaches in messaging by leaders is preferred—even when mistakes and errors have occurred or corrective actions are necessary. It should also be noted that leadership research has also taught us that leaders who excessively use negative messaging eventually contributes to their downfall and derailment as leaders.
MESSAGE IMPACT: A logical extension of valence is message impact. The level of “impact” that occurs as a result of the transmitted message is one of the most important dimensions of communication. Impact is a dimension of change and refers to the weight, lingering force and impression left by a communicated message. Both verbal and non-verbal messages can have impact—impact that is positive and/or impact that is negative. Messages that impact us positively have he ability to create hope, excite, energize, inspire, and educate employees. In contrast, messages that negatively impact employees leave lasting hurts, wounds, scars, fatigue, and burnout. The dimension of impact reminds us that a message is capable of lingering long beyond the moment the message was given. For example, we can all remember some of the messages that our parents gave us as kids (e.g., “pull yourself up by your bootstraps), or messages that famous presidents or leaders have uttered (“I have a dream…”). As leaders, we have to pay particular attention to the level of impact our messages possess.
MESSAGE AUTHENTICITY: Authenticity refers to the level of truth, accuracy, genuineness, and “real-ness” that a message possesses. There has been a lot of research on the leadership traits of “authentic” leaders. Simply put, authentic leaders deliver messages that are “authentic!” Authentic messages promote transparency, legitimacy, passion, integrity, and a unique connection and bond between leaders and their followers. Authentic messages are statements of credibility that promote trust between leaders and their followers. When it comes to authentic messages—a “yes” means “yes” and a “no” means “no.” Authentic messages completely align and close the gap between the leader’s “talk” and “walk.” When leaders utilize authentic messages, their employees waste no time wondering about or trying to read between the lines because the guess-work has been removed. Authentic messages produce faith and confidence in the leader’s vision, mission, values, and goals among employees. In other words—if the authentic leader says it—they mean it.
Effective communicators pay a lot of attention to their message’s valence, impact, and authenticity. Based upon the number of communication breakdowns we experience every day, these three things are something we can all learn to do better!