Leaders communicate effectively
How do you communicate well?
Great communicators motivate and inspire people. Good communication is a key leadership skill to have if you wish to influence anyone and bring about change in an organization. The importance of communication is recognized by the IB by the fact that ‘Communicators’ is one of the IB Learner Profile attributes.
How often, though, do people comment that the key area for development in an organization (including a school) is the quality of communication?
This page provides tools for you to self-assess your personal communication skills.
Communication - a learned skill
Communication is a two-way process: listening and speaking. It is an old adage to note that we have two ears and only one mouth and that this should indicate the stress we give to each side of the communication equation.
Listening is an art which can be learned. Watch this video on 'active listening':
How do you so?
In 10 communication secrets of great leaders, Mike Myatt (Forbes 2012) provides a helpful checklist.
“Great communicators possess a heightened sense of situational and contextual awareness. The best communicators are great listeners and astute in their observations. Great communicators are skilled at reading a person/group by sensing the moods, dynamics, attitudes, values and concerns of those being communicated with. Not only do they read their environment well, but they possess the uncanny ability to adapt their messaging to said environment without missing a beat. The message is not about the messenger; it has nothing to do with messenger; it is however 100% about meeting the needs and the expectations of those you're communicating with.”
The article goes on to provide the top 10 characteristics of great communicators:
- Trusted: Trust is best created by earning it with right acting, thinking, and decisioning. Keep in mind people will forgive many things where trust exists, but will rarely forgive anything where trust is absent.
- Develop meaningful relationships. There is great truth in the following axiom: "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
- Make every word count – be clear. Simple and concise is always better than complicated and confusing
- Focus on who you are communicating with: when you truly focus on contributing more than receiving you will have accomplished the goal.
- Be open-minded: be willing to learn.
- Shut-up and listen: the greatest form of discourse takes place within a conversation, and not a lecture or a monologue
- Replace ego with empathy: empathetic communicators display a level of authenticity and transparency.
- Read between the lines: understand what is not said, witnessed, or heard.
- Develop expertise: develop a technical command over your subject matter.
- Speak to groups as individuals: knowing how to work a room and establish credibility, trust, and rapport are keys to successful interactions.
Activity 1: How good are you at listening?
Research would suggest that most of us are not as good at listening as we think we are.
Click here to access a quick self-scoring questionnaire designed by Mind Tools which evaluates your listening skills.
The questionnaire then goes on to recommend areas where you may wish to develop your skills.
If you wish to read more about active listening click here for a good summary by MindTools.
Activity 2: Our communication
- Create a flowchart explaining the way information is received, processed and shared with others at your school.
- How does your flowchart help all stakeholders learn, understand, and be an active part of an IB World School?
Activity 3: Top Tips on Communication
Ani Magill, Headteacher at St John the Baptist School, Woking, UK, has compiled almost 400 tips that could help you to improve your school. Whilst some of these tips are specific to the UK context the majority are generic and applicable to most schools.
In this activity you are using the tips to identify areas for improving communication in your school.
- Cut up each of the following tips onto a single strip of paper.
- As a leadership team or a whole school faculty use a protocol such as Heart of the Matter to identify which areas you could improve on in your school. If you wish you could make this more manageable by selecting the tips under the various headings of leadership, learning and teaching, achievement, behaviour and general.
- This could be a good activity to carry out as part of your school self-review.
- Who is in charge of your website? Make sure it’s updated every week. We surveyed school websites and only 15% were up to date. Some had staff on who had left three years ago!
- Ensure that the school ‘phone is answered promptly and by someone really friendly. You would be surprised how rarely this happens. Test your own school! If you are short of students, parents will be really put off if they have to press five buttons and finally it says try again later. Ring your school from home and see what the response is.
- Watch the language used around school. Messages should never start with ‘DON’T’ e.g. a notice put up saying ‘Students are forbidden on the roof’ resulted in many more students on the roof than before there was a sign. Try to start messages with, for example, ‘Thank you for remembering…..’ ‘At JHS we respect the environment by putting litter in the bin’.
- Design a really nice school card that you can use for lots of different things. It’s personal and promotes the school (remember to make them small so you don’t have to write too much to fill them).
- Ensure the first and last message a student receives is positive. Be on the gate in the morning and evening giving the positive messages.
- Research says that a personally written note is the most appreciated form of thanks. Have some cards and write/post notes of thanks to people. Emails aren’t half as powerful.
- Most schools ‘phone home now when children are absent but how about texting or phoning those who are persistently late at about 8am to make sure they are up.
- Have a ‘phone in school that can’t be traced - hard to reach parents will often not pick up when they see the school number coming up on the dial.
- It’s so important to try to get parents on side. Investing the time early on saves hours later. Many hard to reach families have had a bad experience of school themselves so make sure their first experience is positive - if necessary visit them. People are very rarely rude to you in their own home.
- Minimise the letters you send home - texting is much better these days - students and parents - e.g. ‘Looking forward to seeing you at Parents’ evening at 4pm’!!
- Have a “you said... we did” board to follow up from surveys etc. It gives feedback and shows you have listened. Same in the Staffroom.
- Letters that go home must be word perfect –it's not okay to say we sent 200 letters home and there were only two mistakes. Some parents only have one child and if their name is spelt wrongly etc., the message they receive is that you don’t care about their child. Most schools have someone on the support staff who is a good proof reader - or ask for a volunteer - especially if the letters go home in different languages. Also don’t use jargon or words that alienate parents from the school. I saw a report where a child was graded for AFL.
- Give everyone a credit card sized card with key dates for the year etc. - very cheap and much appreciated
- Have a staff briefing each week which focuses on students who need TLC, have difficulties at home, good news children.
- Get successful Sixth Formers, Year 11 (UK) (US Grade 10), the silver brigade, local business and local footballers to mentor lower school students with low aspirations.
- Find ways to get the staff to come to the staffroom e.g. cover in only one place, free coffee, free fruit, free cake, a whiteboard with the day’s important notices. It creates more team spirit and digs people out of their cubby holes
- Don’t give staff bits of paper to fill in e.g. inset evaluation. Get feedback all the time but keep it simple e.g. put a flip chart up for anyone to write on WWW/EBI (What went well/Even better if….).
- Find ways to involve the staff in the future direction of the school without creating extra work for them e.g. have a staff meeting about the Development Plan - get staff to sign up to one section they are interested in and just brainstorm ideas of how the school could move forward in that area or put a whiteboard in the staffroom that anyone can put ideas on or post-its.