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  • Writer's pictureClive Vanderwagen

How to Communicate Effectively is the Ultimate Skill You Need

Learning to connect is the key to futureproofing your business

When I work with teams, we often spend the first part of our session connecting and exploring the team dynamics. We chat about frustrations and successes and what could be shifted for them to be more effective.


Often their lack of engagement and the overarching factor at play lies in how they communicate with their leader (and how the leader communicates with them), with each other, and with their stakeholders.


Communication, or the lack of effective communication, can contribute hugely to how a team performs and the overarching culture of an organisation. Culture is co-created by the employees and how they feel about the company has a significant correlation with the overarching ‘smell’ of the culture.


"Communication is the single most important skill for success in business." Richard Branson

Communication doesn’t just refer to the corporate comms that hit an employee’s mailbox, but the overall tone of the way they are spoken to – as humans in conversation co-creating and adding to the success of the business, rather than numbers on a payslip.


I spent time with a team of salespeople recently, and after much prodding, I got them to articulate what was causing them the most distress. The answer was simple: “We just want to know why our targets are what they are.” There was a desire for transparent communication so that they could drive the business forward by understanding its needs and how it was realised through their efforts. Every time they made their target, their target was increased, with no communication as to the reasoning. They wanted to understand how they fit into the overarching goals of the business, not to know confidential info such as salaries and such, but to understand the ‘why’ so they could buy into it. They wanted communication.


Effective and Ineffective Communication


In their book Working Together, Mountain and Davidson offer helpful definitions of the two types of communication.


Effective communication:


Ineffective communication means that:

  • the intended communication is not understood.

  • the person receiving the information is made to feel that they are ‘Not Okay’ as a person.

  • communication is broken and can’t continue or keeps escalating into discomfort or misunderstanding.

  • what needs to be done isn’t done correctly, if at all.


Communication Takes Work


Communication is hard work because effective communication is couched on one essential skill: listening. Many times, the breakthroughs I have in my team dynamics workshops aren’t created by the strategy we decide to execute but begin with me asking powerful questions and listening to their responses, allowing them to speak in a place of psychological safety.


The sales team I worked with in my earlier example felt “like a weight had been lifted off them” after they had articulated their frustration. I never had the power or knowledge to address their request, but by being listened to and communicating their frustration, they felt less frustrated and open to hearing how management would respond to their request for transparency (we discussed how to handle emotions if they got no response, too!).


"The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said." Peter Drucker

Effective communication, a skill that needs to be acquired, fosters understanding, connection, and works towards positive outcomes. This doesn’t mean always being nice but combines two of the ‘psychological hungers’ defined by Eric Berne, who devised a psychological modality of relating called Transactional Analysis. The two hungers needed for effective communication are ‘structure’ and ‘recognition’. A person needs to feel seen and heard and guided by boundaries and clear expectations and consequences.


Effective Communication Requires Empathy


Empathy is thrown around a lot in business, but I’m not sure leaders always fully understand it.


I migrate to compassionate empathy, and in a recent article, I defined it:


“Empathy isn’t just about stepping into someone else’s shoes. It is more nuanced. It’s about allowing someone to have their own story, even if it’s different from yours or your values. It’s letting people be messy and not putting your story onto them. When people feel seen, heard, or valued, they become better people, which translates into improved work performance. Research done by MIT shows the quality of relationships within an organisation ultimately drives the business’s quality of results.”


Hearing the perspective of others, without judgement, opinion, or the influence of bias, is critical to establishing a sense of safety in a company. Author Daniel Coyle, in his book The Culture Code, says that culture is not something you are – it is something you do. He argues that the first thing we need to do is “start with safety”. He says, “Great group chemistry isn’t luck; it’s about sending super-clear, continuous signals: we share a future, you have a voice.”


Safety starts with a culture of empathy. A high sense of nurturing so that critical conversations are met with an understanding that they are to drive performance and results without negating the human, with emotions and messiness, in front of the leader.


"Effective communication is not just about exchanging information. It's about understanding the emotion and intentions behind the information." Inijah Quadri


Effective Communication Means Accessing a Mindful Response


The golden key to effective communication is simple to say but challenging to do. Especially when we’re under stress or emotional. Effective communication lies in being conscious of our options to choose our response.


It’s that old cliché: Respond rather than react. (The thing is, clichés are clichés because they’re true.)


Often our reactions to events are not in the here and now. Our gut reaction is usually based on a childhood script about how we should behave. Ever get that feeling that you didn’t like someone even though you had just met them? This is usually a past script alerting you to get away from the person because, instinctually, the person reminds you of someone in your past that perhaps didn’t treat you well. It’s not a here-and-now response to fight or flight.


The mindful leader can step into the present moment, deal with the facts in front of them, and ascertain the best way forward. It’s a split-second decision to pause and think about how you should respond.


When you’ve spent time listening and allowing the person to speak and be seen, the final step is to choose your response. It may not be the correct response, but it will be better than a knee-jerk reaction you feel bad about later.


Communication Is a Skill


"Communication is a skill that you can learn. It's like riding a bicycle or typing. If you're willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life." Brian Tracy

Communication is a skill that can be learned and improved with practice. By training your mind (neuroplasticity activation and all that), you will enjoy the benefits of effective communication.


In my work as a trainer and facilitator, I gravitate to Transactional Analysis as a theory of human relationships with which to work. By giving leaders and teams a simple and accessible way to manage their interactions, I have seen teams walk out with a new outlook and sensed a shift in the organisation's culture when I worked with the leaders.


If communication is an issue – and you’ll only know by communicating – then invest in ways to improve how you work together and choose behaviours that allow for effective communication and, ultimately, better results.


If you would like to find out more about how to use Transactional Analysis in your business, you can get in touch by mailing me: clive@readypeople.co.za

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