How Leaders Can Avoid These 3 Virtual and In-Person Communication Mistakes

Communication is a critical skill for leaders, whether that be in an in-person discussion or virtually, as we are all experiencing enmasse today. That is how we get things done. That flow of dialogue going back and forth between human beings is what will make or break our collective success.

A pattern has emerged for me while observing the organizations I serve who have frustrated, disengaged employees who are not producing results and are challenged at staying engaged. When we dig deeper, we frequently find a leader who is failing at proper, effective, two-way communication. Communication and inspiring leadership go hand in hand, and the leaders who take the time to work on their communication and self-awareness skills are the ones whose organizations thrive, not fight to survive. 

Consider these facts:

  • Research shows that the most productive employees tend to receive the most effective communication from their leaders.
  • Improved communication in th eworkplace enhances employee satisfaction, according to numerous surveys.
  • Effective communication has a direct, positive impact on absenteeism and turnover; when leaders communicate authentically, their direct reports feel more compelled to remain loyal.
  • Bad communication leads to poor, inconsistent performance and results.
  • Unfocused, ambiguous, and vague communication contributes to an overall decline in employee morale and engagement.
  • Inadequate communication plays a significant role in health, safety, and stress-related illnesses, causing employees to miss work and consequently, a decrease in productivity.

Poor communication skills are organizational poison. It can stifle a business, and leaders are to blame for not holding themselves and others accountable for how they communicate and interact with their colleagues.

The irony in writing this is that those that need a communication tune-up are often the ones who believe they are fabulous communicators. If you are grounded, self-aware and open-minded, and the voice in your head or heart is telling you that improvement is needed, then please read on.

If you are going to become a better communicator the first step is to listen. Stop talking and dominating the conversation and listen and seek to understand vs. waiting for your turn to speak. There is a huge difference!

Communication Failure #1 – Not Listening

Why are leaders failing so badly at communication? Mostly it is because they fail to listen.

I know listening seems like the simplest thing, but it is one of the top 10 skills that leaders who perform at a high-level use in every interaction.

As a leader, it is critical that you learn to listen to your people. Do not coast through your day by spoon-feeding them answers when they approach you for advice or consultation. Hear them out. Ask empowering, clarifying questions, and help them explore learning in a collaborative and engaged manner.

When you listen actively and attentively, you drive up employee engagement and send the message that you value your people, which enhances their growth and development. 

Communication Failure #2 – Interrupting

The number one sign that a leader is not listening is when they interrupt you or another individual in the conversation. Sure, interrupting might appear to be human nature, or a common mishap. The average person can only listen for about seven seconds before they are compelled to interrupt. Leaders need to hold themselves to a higher standard and model what effective communication looks like.

Interrupting is, of course, closely related to a lack of listening. We have all been there: engaged in conversation, but then we start paying more attention to what we are going to say next vs. what the person in front of us is saying in that moment, then the interruption happens.

Stop interrupting as it is counterproductive! You will be viewed as a command-control leader who must always have the last word or control the conversation.

I know, you may be thinking that sometimes it is useful to interject to gain clarity, but useful interjections are much different from interruptions. A useful interjection comes from a place of listening or the need to keep the conversation on track, whereas an interruption comes from a place of distraction and disinterest. And guess what? Your people can tell when you are distracted and disinterested. It is not a good look for you, your brand or reputation.

Let us look at it another way:

Do you remember the last time someone gave you their full, undivided attention when you were speaking? It was a nice feeling, wasn’t it? They gave you the space to express yourself fully, and your ideas flowed much more easily because the person on the other end of the conversation was engaged and fully committed to listening to you.

When we listen to others, we, in turn, make the people around us better communicators by modelling the right behaviors. It stands to reason that poor communication will breed poor communication in the front-line ranks of your organization. The result? Teams and organizations will struggle to perform.

Communication Failure #3 – Multi Tasking

You are a busy professional. We all are. But do not start believing you are so busy you cannot be bothered to pay attention when people talk to you.

Multi-tasking might seem like a great way to get things done while you engage with your employees in-person or virtually, but all it does is distract you and make your people think you don’t care about them or their time. Oh, by the way, when you are on a virtual call, people can detect when you are not paying attention and are multi-tasking vs. tuning it. It is downright rude and sets the example for your people that this type of behavior is acceptable.

Ineffective leaders are always trying to do two or three things at once. Strong and effective leaders structure their time in ways that allow them to give 100% of their concentration to each task and each moment.

If you truly cannot talk to someone and give them your full attention, find a better time to chat. Put your phone down. Stop looking at your screen. Do not take that call. Just be there, be present, and pay attention. 

You Can Be a Better Communicator!

Here is a challenge for you: observe the conversations that happen around you every day. Pay attention as you observe these interactions and you will start to notice exactly what I am talking about. Furthermore, I challenge you to be more observant of your own conversations and interactions. You might catch your attention drifting, or you may notice yourself interrupting. Perhaps you will find yourself trying to talk to someone while you are reviewing a spreadsheet or taking care of some other business.

If you notice yourself engaging in these types of poor habits, remember—you have the power to change your behavior. And as you alter your approach to become a better communicator, I have no doubt that you will notice higher levels of engagement and productivity with your team and within your organization.

High-performing leaders are constantly working on their communication skills. Are you?

Do you have any additional advice or insight about why leaders fail at effective communication or how to become a better listener? We would love to hear what you think, so leave a comment below or send me an email at

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 May 26th we will focus on how to create a culture of Total Accountability. If you are eager to learn more, then you do not want to miss this webinar session.

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

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

Stay safe, well and to please listen to others!

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