Are You a Skilled Communicator? How to Avoid These 9 Communication Mistakes that Leaders Can't Afford to Make

What does it mean to be a leader in today’s new world of work?

First and foremost, it is important to rememberthat leadership is not about title, rank or role. It’s a way of being.

There are many skills and competencies that are critical to be an impactful leader. True effective leadership is not possible without effective communication skills. In fact, I would argue that leadership is about communication.I cannot think of a single successful leader who is not also a master communicator. But sadly, I can think of plenty of ineffective leaders who have real challenges with communication.

Ultimately, you cannot expect to lead effectively if you do not possess strong and effective communication skills. The way in which we have all been forced to virtually lead now, under the circumstances, has elevated the importance of being a skilled communicator.

Reflecting on the Leaders in Your Life

Think about the leaders you have worked for throughout your career. My guess is that the leaders who have inspired you the most did so by communicating in an engaging way. They expressed themselves clearly, listened actively, provided thoughtful feedback and were able to connect with you on a human level. They were capable of doing so, both in person and remotely in order to connect with you in a meaningful way.

On the other side of the coin, I would wager that the worst leaders you’ve worked for were ineffective communicators. They probably had difficulty conveying their ideas and instructions and were unable to motivate their teams. Maybe they failed to listen or give feedback. Or maybe they secluded themselves inside or outside the office, rarely making themselves available for discussion. Constantly rescheduling your one-on-one meetings and being caught up in the “busyness” of their work. That is not leadership. In fact, it is the opposite of what we advocate in our work and teaching.

In your role as a leader, I am sure you look to those who have inspired you in the past with good communication habits while avoiding the failures that characterized the least effective leaders in your life. Nevertheless, it is important to step back and observe your own communication habits, skills and practices. Even though you likely make every effort to communicate in a way that drives your organization forward successfully, you may have some blind spots.

Even the best leaders make mistakes in communication sometimes. What separates them from the rest is their drive to constantly improve, and their determination to become aware of their opportunities so they can grow and improve.

Are You Communicating to the Best of Your Ability as a Leader?

Are you concerned that your communication skills might be lacking? Do you find that you struggle in interactions with people inside and outside your organization? Are you afraid that you might have some communication blind spots? Are you having challenges with communicating in our new remote way of working?

The first step to improving your leadership communication is becoming aware of your areas of opportunity and blind spots. The following communication mistakes, if not addressed, will make it very difficult for you to succeed and inspire your people to deliver their personal best. But if you can recognize these mistakes in yourself, you can improve yourcommunication ability considerably. Let’s take a deeper look!

#1 – Speaking to PeopleInstead of Communicating with Them

As a leader, you certainly need to provide direction and set expectations with your people. However, you cannot treat every interaction as a one-way street. One of the quickest ways to alienate your team is to broadcast messages to them without capturing their thoughts, ideas and concerns. Remember – communication is a team sport. Ideally, there is a give and take that happens, which allows the interaction to produce results that would not occur if you simply commanded others to do so. Talking at people will not capture minds and hearts; instead it erodes trust and breaks down relationships and performance.

#2 – Interrupting; Over Talking and Finishing Their Sentences

This is a very common communication mistake I see a lot of people making, not only in their work interactions, but in their personal lives too. Sadly, many leaders and people in general are not even aware of this habit, which exacerbates the problem. Yes, you have wisdom, expertise and knowledge that can help others. And yes, you may know the point someone is trying to make before they have a chance to express it. But that doesn’t mean you have a right to interrupt the flow of communication. When leaders continually interrupt, they erode the confidence of their employees. This behavior makes it highly unlikely that they will speak up, ask questions or contribute more to the discussion. Interrupting shuts people down. It doesn’t build them up. We need to create a safe space where people feel confident in sharing what’s on their mind. So stop talking and listen.

#3 – Overusing Jargon and Lingo

Every industry has its own jargon and lingo, and every organization has its own internal language. Unfortunately, when leaders overuse this type of language, it can alienate and intimidate the intended audience. Buzzwords and technical terms can be useful sometimes, but when you rely on them too frequently to get your point across, people stop hearing what you are really saying. Use language that is more purposeful, impactful and easy to understand.

#4 – Constant Complaining

Leaders who engage in constant complaining rarely inspire their people to do great things, and it can be exhausting to be around them. Instead, they inspire their people to react to challenging situations with complaints and negative emotions. Complaining is just not a good look for anyone, let alone someone in a position of leadership who has direct responsibility for others. Leadership is about looking at negative situations and offering solutions or recognizing opportunities. When we complain, it cuts off the likelihood of those lemons turning into lemonade, and our personal brand is most likely to be damaged as a result.

#5 – Avoiding Difficult Conversations

Conflict is uncomfortable, and leaders should never avoid necessary conversations just because they may be difficult to have. Avoiding difficult conversations may provide temporary relief, but the issue is not going to disappear on its own. The ability to navigate challenging interactions is a hallmark of outstanding leadership. A simple tip: If you are working remotely, please make sure you are using video for difficult conversations as you want to be able to see a person’s facial expression and reaction. Hiding behind the phone, email or text messaging is not leadership, nor is it the way to conduct these types of discussions. Those who have worked closely with me will hear me say that we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable – that is how we grow and develop.

#6 – Failing to Read Others; Being Externally Self-Aware

Tone is a tricky thing. Nevertheless, leaders should be able to recognize the general mood when interacting with individuals and small groups of people. When leaders fail to tap into how someone else might be feeling, they will miss learning opportunities and more importantly, being empathetic to what others are feeling. One of the quickest ways to bring morale down and sap the energy out of an organization is to be stern and sour during a happy, energetic scenario. On the flip side, making jokes and being too easygoing during a serious situation can also disengage employees. Leaders influence the mood and tone of their respective teams, and when we fail to read people and situations properly, it can be disastrous.

#7 – Engaging in Gossip

Leaders cannot stop the natural human tendency that some people have to engage in gossip. The example you set goes a long way towards ensuring that gossip doesn’t permeate or harm your team or organization. Unfortunately, some leaders do engage in gossipy situations. I have witnessed this myself firsthand in my interactions with others. It is not an attractive quality, to say the least. When leaders deal in gossip, it creates tacit permission for their people to do the same. Be a leader and lead by example. Have the courage to engage in the difficult conversation to avoid adding to the unnecessary drama or take a moment and coach others on how to do so.

#8 – Avoiding Feedback

This is a big one, and it works both ways: Leaders who fail to offer good, constructive feedback leave their people wondering if what they’re doing is helping or hurting the organization. This may leave employees feeling aimless and unsure of how to operate. And when leaders fail to ask for feedback from their people, it leaves employees feeling disengaged and voiceless. What may be worse is when leaders ask for feedback from their people, only to ignore it. If you are not willing to act on the feedback you receive, then asking for it can and will harm your reputation.

#9 – Failing to Listen

This might be the biggest communication mistake leaders and others make. So many communication failures could be avoided if leaders simply listened to what their people were saying. At the end of the day, your ability to communicate in a way that moves your organization in the right direction comes down to how well you can listen to the voices around you. Listening is also a gift; it shows that we value the person speaking and that we care. Ineffective listening creates disengagement, erodes trust and breaks down relationships. We all want to be heard, so start listening to others!

Are You Making These Communication Mistakes?

If you see yourself inside this list of communication mistakes it means that you have the internal self-awareness to recognize areas where you can improve. This is a critical first step on the way to maximizing your leadership potential.

I’d love to know if this resonated with you. Have you been guilty of these communication mistakes? How have you improved your communication during your time as a leader? What are some of the other mistakes you’ve corrected on your way to becoming a better communicator? How effective is your virtual communication? Are you comfortable creating meaningful connections remotely?

Are you ready to learn more about how you can enhance your communication skills and inspire others to deliver their personal best? I would love to discuss a plan of action with you.

The LeadersEdge Grounded Leader webinar series continues this month through to September of this year where we will visit a different Grounded Leader pillar every month.

On April 21st, our webinar will explore How to Inspire with Your Message. If you are eager to strengthen the way in which you communicate and share your point of view, then you don’t want to miss this training.

If you are interested in learning more, visit this page to find out how you can reserve your spot.

I’m here and available to support your leadership success so give me a call at 1.855.871.3374 or send me an email at

I am also offering complimentary coaching sessions to help leaders through this challenging time. Please book your session using this link.

Stay well, safe and kind!

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