Communication Tips for Leaders

Guest article by Paul Binsfeld, Founder and CEO of Company Nurse

This past month, I had the opportunity to experience a keynote speaker by the name of Steven Gaffney. For those of us in leadership positions who find ourselves at too many conferences throughout the year, our expectations of actually getting some strong “take home” benefits from keynote speakers can be somewhat low.  And so it began when Steven Gaffney took the stage at a conference attended last month.

Steven Gaffney was introduced as, among other things, “the leading expert on open and honest communication.”   I wasn’t sure whether I should listen up or yawn.  But, within minutes, I was pretty certain that I should listen up!

Steven’s entire program was more than an hour, and more than I can recount here.  However, there were a few take home ideas that I was sure to write down.

As leaders of our organizations, we have a desire to make the best decisions possible.  We can only do this when we have a complete and truthful view of the problems and the situation.  Those complete and truthful views can only come from our ability to communicate effectively with our team.  In addition, our people are continually looking for information about the organization and its prospects in what we say and how we say it.  When, as leaders, we say less, our people can become more worried.  And with less information, our team will generally fill in the gaps with assumptions and water cooler gossip.

To help us as leaders, Steven Gaffney left the group with the following “Communication Rules” for effective communication:

  1. The more you assume that you may be wrong, the better your life will be
  2. When speaking with someone, assume good intent
  3. When speaking with someone, assume there is more to the story
  4. Assume that people DO want to hear what you have to say
  5. Tone is 5 times the force of the words you have to say

Rule #1– As a leader, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking we are right….all the time!  However, by assuming we may be wrong, we leave our minds open to new ideas and perhaps better and more efficient ways of doing things.  We are more willing to explore multiple possibilities. These “new ideas” can be where the real growth and opportunity in our organizations can be found.

Rule #2 – It can be tempting to be suspicious of ones motives, especially if you have had a previous unfavorable experience with that person.  However, in many cases, those biases can be wrong.  By exploring that person’s ideas with an open mind, we as leaders can find that our assumptions were wrong and that we almost overlooked excellent input and advice.

Rule #3 – My own personal experience has led me to believe that there is more to the story the vast majority of the time.  As leaders, our schedules are hectic and it can seem tempting to only hear the “headlines” and to ignore the text.  However, as leaders, we owe it to ourselves and our organizations to dig further.  By going beyond the “what” and exploring the “why”, we can better understand, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”

Rule #4 – Being a leader involves many hard discussions with our people.  Providing negative but constructive and truthful feedback is a part of being a leader.  Our job is to help our people grow and we can only do this with honest and straightforward communication.  In most situations, we can assume that our people are interested in improving and do want to hear what we have to say.  In fact, it is our duty to deliver that feedback and also to let them know what they can do to improve their performance.

Rules #5 – As leaders, our people areconstantly listening to what we say.  But, more so, they look at how we deliver our message and the tone we use.  With a gruff and harsh voice, repeat the following phrase out loud, “Hey! We’re closing up early today!”  What would you think if your boss said that in a gruff and harsh tone?  You might think you are about to clear out your desk.  Now repeat the same phrase in a happy and cheerful tone.  The words read the same but the meaning changes.  Tone can overshadow the words by many times.

As you may have guessed, I very much enjoyed the keynote presented by Steven Gaffney and hope you can take something away from my review.  If you would like more information on Steven Gaffney and Honest Communication, you can visit his website at

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