Many of the leaders I work with feel like all they do is talk to people all day. When I speak with their teams, they feel like they hardly ever see or hear from their boss.
Are these people living in parallel universes in the same office space??
The truth is that we, as humans, are selective listeners. We can’t focus on all the noise and all the messages we have in our environment so we filter most of them out at any given time. We also have a very hard time processing information if we don’t already have a context to place it in—it goes in one ear and out the other.
What does this mean for leaders?
First, when sharing information with your team make sure they have background and context. It doesn’t work just to make declarations like “No more early lunches!” and move on. Where the heck did that come from? No. You need to explain the situation and then why it matters. How does a few people taking an early lunch impede progress toward the team’s overall goal? Help them understand the context.
Second, realize that when you have a message you want to get across you will need to say it multiple times in multiple ways. Don’t just share your message in your team meetings. Also reiterate it during your one on one meetings with each team member. You may also need to send out an email, since some people learn better by reading than listening. Then you may need to bring it up several more times in other settings and contexts, including asking each individual what your message means to them. How are they hearing what you are saying?
Marketers know that it takes 5-8 touches by a brand for customers to begin to notice them. When we are sharing information with our team, they may need just as many exposures for them to begin registering the message. Depending on the message, you may need to do the same.
Third, (and this is especially important when your message relates to changing the culture of the team) you not only have to repeat the message, but you need to live the message and reward those who show by their behavior that they have heard and understand the message.
Finally, don’t try to communicate too many messages or make too many changes at once. That creates so much noise that it almost guarantees that none of your messages will get through.
Include your message on your team meeting agendas.
Put a sign up in the lunch room.
Give each person a Starbucks gift card with the message written on it.
You get the picture.
Leaders: it is almost impossible to over-communicate. Make it calm, caring, clear—but don’t stop communicating your message until you can see by your team’s behavior that they have heard and understood it. Then have a big celebration!!