And it has nothing to do with Social Media!  And it’s not about your ability to manage others. Or perhaps you were thinking it’s a technical skill, like being able to calculate EBITDA in your head. Still others may be sure it has something to do with strategic planning. Those are all great skills to have, but none of them are worth a shiny new bitcoin if you cannot get your point across; if you cannot communicate your message so that it arrives in the receiver’s mind just as you intended.

Stripped to its essence, communication is the response you get. Just look at all the ways communication can go awry in the chart below.1 First, the speaker must encode his or her Encoding-Decodingthoughts, then communicate a message. Then it has to travel through all kinds of mayhem and foolishness (smart phones, iPads, shiny objects) to reach the receiver. Once there, the receiver must decode (that’s a whole other thing) and then, one can only hope, the message is received.

If you want to become a leader who inspires others to exceptional performance, the place to start is by evaluating your communication skills. For today, use this question to help you form and express your most compelling and articulate message: do you want to sharpen the point or soften the blow?

If it matters that your listeners hear and understand that phones must be covered until 5:00 on the Friday before a long weekend, you want to sharpen the point. This is what someone said this morning, which got me thinking about communication: “It would be great if someone could stay ’til 5ish in case any clients call late in the day?”  Yes, that question mark should be there because the speaker ended the sentence with an upward inflection. How do you think receivers of this message will decode the meaning?  One guess: “Somebody else will stay so I can leave early.”

The second example involves an aspiring leader who was given the task of updating the executive team on a very important project that would inform a critical ‘go/no go’ decision. Half-way through the meeting, the speaker said,”I hope this is sort of crystal clear.”  Not the best example of assertive communication, and naturally, one executive team member decided to sharpen the point by replying, “I hope it’s more than ‘sort of’ clear.”

When you want to sharpen the point, clean up your word choices and your delivery style. When you want to soften the blow, use more neutral, friendlier language and relax your delivery. With just this quick adjustment, you will become a leader with a communication toolbox filled with the coolest and most useful tools.

Who’s staying ’til 5?


1. Stuart Hall, Encoding and Decoding Communication Theory, 1980