Leadership Communication

Part 2: Communication

In the last installment, we discussed how people, or interpersonal skills, are an elusive component of leadership. As I mentioned before, the scope and complexity involved with these skills is hard to capture in a single word or phrase. Still, as leaders, mentors, facilitators, educators, or simply the intellectually curious, we immerse ourselves in on-going conversations on these topics – Why?

I like to believe we are mutually invested in finding better ways to share our knowledge, to learn from those around us, and ultimately foster an environment of mutual respect, if not necessarily understanding.

We talked a bit about the art of listening. Now, let’s broaden that conversation to include the concept of communication.

Communication: “[. . .] (a) A process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior [. . .]”

[Source: “Communication.” Def. 3. Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2017. 28. February 2017.]

One key phrase from the above definition is common system. Keep that phrase in mind as you read and think about the following:

What are you passionate about? That may, or may not, be something related to the outdoors. Since this is an AMC blog, let’s pretend outdoor gear is your passion. You read blogs, product reviews, manufacturer specs, visit specialized outdoor retailers on trips to other places, and we won’t even talk about the amount of gear you have in your basement, attic, garage and/or barn. If someone innocently asks you: “How many ____ do you own?” you sincerely pause, count in your head, and then ask follow-up questions to provide an accurate answer. This is a passion, perhaps bordering on an obsession.

Now think about your communication with someone who shares your passion: What does your conversation with a fellow “gearhead” look like? Sound like? How does it feel?

Let’s shift gears. Imagine a time when you were with a group of people who shared a common interest – for example, a passion for baking amazing pastry confections – and, although you are interested in the topic, you don’t know much about it.

How did you feel in that situation? What made the conversation feel more or less accessible? What did the group do, or not do, to make you feel welcomed, included and valued?

Communication gets complicated fast, doesn’t it? We’ve all been the “novice” in a room full of “experts” – and that experience can either be exhilarating & inspiring or alienating & depressing.

Remember how I focused earlier on that phrase common system? As leaders, part of our responsibility is to build an inclusive community for our participants. For these individuals, on any given day, we are the “experts” in the room and we need to think about the words we use, our body language and where, when and how we share information.

I’d encourage us all, as leaders, to consider the last time we lead an activity, meeting or social event. Were we mindful of the “novices” in our community? Did we adapt our communication so those individuals felt welcome? If not, why not? How would we change our approach in the future?

We’ll delve into that some more in “The Intangibles of Leadership – Part 3: When a Conversation Goes Awry: Lessons from the World of Customer Service.”

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Kristi Hobson Edmonston

AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.