Interpersonal Communication Keys to Effective Leadership by Bob Newton

“The monkeys are running the zoo!”

Anyone who has ever heard this saying understands that this simply does not work as a parent, or for that matter, within any organization we are associated. There needs to be clear direction, communication and leadership to achieve optimal levels of success.

I mean, if I allowed my children to run the house devoid of any type of leadership, I assure you that a zoo would probably be a much calmer and more desirable place to reside. But I digress..

Today I would like to discuss the idea of effective interpersonal relationships, and the importance of building authentic relationships to leadership. If you did not realize it, how you manage your interpersonal relationship will make or break your responsibilities as a leader. It is that simple!

I have compiled three key core aspects of interpersonal communication, as it relates to leadership, that will facilitate authenticity, accurate understanding and overall success towards building world-class teams. There are many more, I am sure, but these three I believe have the greatest return on your investment.

1. Understanding Behavioral Styles

Effective leadership requires that we strive to understand our teams’ behavior and or behavioral styles so that we can maximize our effectiveness as leaders over our direct reports.

However, many will ask, “What exactly is “Behavior” as it relates to the workplace and why is it important for me to be aware of as a leader?”

Behavior, much the same as defined in the psychological or sociological professions, refers to peoples’ actions and or reactions to stimulus– both verbal and non-verbal. In every interaction an individual has on a daily basis, the outcome of their communication style is what can be seen or heard by others. In addition, it must be understood, most importantly, that individual behavior is what invokes reactions (Action begets Reaction) from others that overwhelmingly impact a team’s effectiveness.

It is critical for a leader at any level to understand that behavior, although often overlooked as a critical component to be assessed during our evaluation process, is the most influential facilitator of success or failure within any organization.

I would urge you to become a student of your employee’s behavior. The better you can understand each individual within your team the better you will be able to support them, groom them into successful employees and achieve overall success as a cohesive team.

2. Listening & Effectively Communicating

The principles behind interpersonal communication dictate that there must be a sender and a receiver to facilitate effective communication. When one or both of these two key components are missing and or not receiving the message clearly, we have a communication breakdown.

“But how does that apply to my leadership and how do I improve my abilities to communicate clearly with my direct reports? I understand what I’m saying, so why don’t they?,” you are probably now saying.

Well, that is not as difficult to answer as one might think.

Primarily, we as leaders must humble ourselves to understand that we do not always have to be saying something to be effective and or inspirational. In fact speaking is perhaps the worst thing you can do more often than not when placed in a leadership role. Effective listening builds authenticity, respect and most importantly trust! Additionally, listening builds a sense of ownership amongst your team that allows your reports to feel that their opinions really do matter.

Countless experts have written on the subject, but if you consider one of my personal favorite quotes, I believe you get a better understanding of the core concept I am attempting to drive home here. Stephen R. Covey once wrote, “Seek first to understand, and then be understood.”

That is a fairly heavy, if not philosophically profound, statement so I am going to allow you a moment for that to sink in…

Ready? OK…

So Covey’s profound statement illustrates better than anything else I can think of that our role, as a leader, is firstly listener and learner followed then by speaker, not the other way around.

Understanding this principle is paramount to effective interpersonal communication and will make or break your team’s success. Moreover, if you can grasp the concept that you will achieve greater heights of success by listening more and speaking less, I would offer that you will foster more effective teams that achieve higher levels of effectiveness with more authentic interpersonal relationship amongst the group.

Listening is a skill that can and should be learned and practice repeatedly, as you will no doubt ever perfect the skill. Furthermore, improving your skill as a listener will become a portion of your skill-set’s that will become integral to all aspects of your life, but very much so when leading in any capacity.

3. Understand that Criticism is YOUR best learning tool.

I believe it is a fairly accurate statement to say that no one loves receiving criticism, especially someone who is in a leadership capacity. In most cases, our immediate reaction is to become defensive or deny the critical comments.

Yet, understanding that criticism is the best learning tool we are afforded in every aspect of our life and is paramount to improving our abilities is a priceless lesson worth learning.

When faced with criticism we end-up, all too often, wrapped up in thinking about how we are going to respond to the judgment instead of really hearing what the person is trying to tell us. The criticism may hold an element of truth that could help us grow as individuals if we were not so busy being defensive. In addition, the added bonus is that our image as a leader would improve if we could remain in control during times of conflict and confrontation that often are associated with criticism.

To effectively handle criticism I would offer there are three critical skills that will help us in receiving the message in a more effective manner:

1) Allow the criticism to sink in before you speak.

2) Understanding the specifics behind the criticism and ask yourself, “What caused this individual to identify my short coming and how accurate is it?” Clarify Clarify Clarify!

3) And lastly, even if it is personal do NOT take it as such. Grow from it and thank them for pointing it out!

At its core, the essential component to correctly handling criticism is to maintain an ability to hear criticism without becoming defensive or angry. Utilize words that acknowledge the other individual’s point of view and accepting that it could very well be accurate on some level. Then ask yourself, “So what am I you going to do about it?”

In the end, whether you are a manager or a leader in any capacity, these core interpersonal skills are necessary to achieve your optimal success. By improving in these areas you will be afforded the ability to better influence others, demonstrate and receive respect for those you are charged with and create a positive team environment where trust is at the cornerstone of all that you do.


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