I recently attended a meeting where a senior leader was sharing their 2020 plans for the team. She was highlighting to her team what the focus areas would be and what was most important to her in the team delivering it. As I looked around the room my intuition told me that the team hadn’t a clue what she had said. When I talked with people over coffee they confirmed this – the intended message hadn’t been delivered and each individual was confused about their role in delivering the 2020 objectives. When I spoke to the leader she felt she had articulated it well. Through our executive coaching sessions, she became more aware of the ambiguity she was creating and strategies to make her communication clearer, which had a great impact on team around her.

This can happen frequently even in simple everyday interactions – the meaning someone takes is not the meaning intended. It got me thinking about communication and how we often overlook the simple art of communicating well. 


What gets in the way?

  • Jargon – any word that essentially is an acronym of some kind. 
  • Talking for too long – a convoluted story or message that gets lost in all the words that are used and time it takes to convey it.
  • Coming from our own perspective without considering how the other person will be receptive to the message.
  • We may be an expert in the area we are talking about and forget that others aren’t.
  • Not giving the brain time to process what we are saying – leaving no gaps or space for silence.
  • “Dressing things up” – instead of simply saying what needs to be said we soften our message for fear of judgment from the other person or concerns that they may take the message personally. 
  • Not being clear ourselves on the message we want to convey.
  • Not spending sufficient time planning our communication approach. 

When I work with leaders we often spend time on what is an under-utilised skill in leadership – the power of being explicit or their communication strategy. It is a skill that is rarely taught and one that, when mastered, can have a dramatic impact. Leaders can often fail to communicate clearly enough to their direct reports what they actually expect, so part of explicitness is getting back to basics and truly working out what you expect from your team, and working on this in advance of communicating it. 

Definition of Explicitness

Explicitness as a leader is the skill of defining, in unambiguous terms, exactly what is required in terms of performance. In more general terms, explicitness in communication is being able to clearly articulate your message in a way that your listener will understand.

Tips to build explicitness into your communication strategy:

  • Preparation – whether this is preparing for a performance review conversation with a direct report or pitching a new idea to your manager, give yourself time in the diary to plan the communication. Ask yourself: What do I want to communicate?
  • Vision – Spend time clearly defining what you expect from your team.
  • Practice – when you say it out loud, it becomes easier to spot potential flaws in your communication and adjust beforehand.
  • Tailor your message to your audience – What style of communication does my listener prefer? Are they more visual, for example or do they prefer a document to read in advance?
  • Build self-awareness – Ask for feedback from others on your current communication style, so that you can notice current strengths and any areas for adjustment.
  • Time for reflection – we often forget the power of stopping and reflecting, which can ensure we continue to develop our communication approach.
  • Be open and receptive – to others views and ideas – communication is collaborative rather than a broadcast.

I work with many clients on their communication strategy and find this simple process as part of our coaching relationship can work really well:

STEP 1 – SET OUT YOUR PERSONAL, COMPANY AND TEAM VISION

If this step is missed out, communication can lack a purpose as we aren’t clear what we are aiming to achieve from a personal, company and team perspective.

STEP 2 – BUILD SELF-AWARENESS 

I encourage you as a first step to notice in your daily interactions with others how you show up as a communicator – are you explicit in your communication? Review your communication using the “what gets in the way” section and notice if any of these are a potential achilles heel for you. 

STEP 3 – AGREE YOUR COMMUNICATION STRATEGY

  • In this part of the coaching process we brainstorm ways to move towards explicitness, building on the self-awareness from step 2.
  • We also acknowledge the different stakeholders you communicate with and what approaches could work best.

STEP 4 – TRY OUT NEW STRATEGIES 

Literally starting to practice being more explicit and applying new strategies.

STEP 5 – REFLECT AND REVIEW 

During this coaching session (s) we review what is working and what tweaks can be made to build our communication approach.

Working with an executive coach can really help to implement your own personalised communication plan using explicitness at the core. I’d love to hear what you think and what your communication strategies are? 

We work with lots of different leaders looking to be at their best and one of the ways is through developing your communication. If you wish to understand more about our executive coaching programmes or you have any questions for me, please get in touch.

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