Learning to communicate effectively and with empathy, not only makes you a better and happier leader at work, it can also help you navigate challenges at home. Here’s how…

I’ve spent more than 20 years working in Communications (most recently as a board-level Director of Corporate & Employee Communications) and I can tell you that there is no more effective leadership tool than good communication.

Have you ever wondered what great leaders have in common? Good ideas, sure. Charisma, yes. Unshakeable purpose, absolutely. But here’s the vital thing that connects them:

They are all powerful communicators. They know how to use language to persuade, convince, advocate, challenge, negotiate, empathise and understand. They understand that clear communication is an enabler to good decision-making, effective teams and leading change.

They use language not just to speak, but also to understand.

Do you have these leaders in your workplace? I bet they’re not only effective in their role, but that they’re also thriving. Whenever I feel as if I am truly understood – with my words and my actions – then I’m a lot happier in any situation, whether it be a work context or at home.

Conversely, when I’m struggling with communication and being understood (and listened to), that really affects my morale and my motivation.

As women juggling a career with the demands of family life, poor communication hits me right in the gut at home too. After a long and tiring day, it can take just a few poorly chosen words to turn a small issue into a larger fight. And I’ve noticed a positive difference when I am more intentional about the way I communicate with my husband and daughter.

So if communication is such an important part of our working lives and leadership journey, why do we as women struggle with it so much? Part of it is due to entrenched and antiquated attitudes around how women are expected to behave and speak in the workplace – sadly there are still too many cultural stereotypes around women being “bossy” instead of “assertive” and “emotional” instead of “passionate”. The other reason is that as women, we can find it hard to ask for what we want in a clear way. This has to change if we want to grow as leaders and take our rightful place around the management table.

Based on my years of professional experience, and now as a leadership coach, i’ve identified five key lessons in communication that we can all learn and use, whatever the situation.

Try them out – at work or at home – and let me know you get on!

1. Stop hedging, apologising and caveating: 

Think about these phrases – “not sure if this is right, but…” “I could be wrong, but what about…” “this may be an obvious thing to say but…” “sorry to bring this up but…”

Do you recognise them? These are often the types of phrases women use at work, when they have something to say, something to offer, and don’t want to come across as too assertive, for fear of being labelled pushy or aggressive. But the problem is, whenever we use them, we aren’t being clear or intentional about what we mean to say and do. We may think it’s helping us navigate a male-dominated environment but all it actually does is pander to people’s out-dated perceptions of women in the workplace. And it means we don’t get what we need, because we don’t say what we need.

Eliminate these phrases from your vocabulary today!

2. Own your seat at the table 

Have you ever taken a seat at the back or the edge of the room for an important meeting? Given your seat up around the table to a man? Our actions and mannerisms speak as loudly as our words in terms of communication at work. We need to pair assertive, clear language with assertive, clear body language.

Take your seat at the table. Lean into the conversation. Use your hands when you speak (it takes up more space!)

3. Connect the dots (and the people in the room) 

Part of being a powerful communicator is being able to draw people in and draw people together. It takes empathy and attention. This is where women excel! And can lead to very powerful conversations. Whenever you’re leading a conversation, do your best to bring people into the discussion, seek broader viewpoints and be intentional about listening deeply. You’ll be surprised at how transformative it can be.

4. Don’t rush to answer – take a beat 

One of the things I often coach professional women on is not being afraid to take a pause, and take a beat, when they are asked something challenging. Too often, we rush into a response in our haste to make it look like we have all the answers. This can backfire, as it may provoke more of an emotional or reactive response than we intend, due to the speed at which our thoughts come tumbling out and the way we may feel about the question. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “that’s an interesting question, let me reflect on that for a second and I’ll come back to you with a fuller response.” This gives you time to take a breath, filter and then respond. And it’s helpful in a job interview too!

5. Speak “human” and skip the jargon 

This is my favourite tip for leaders wanting to improve their communication skills. The best messaging can get hidden beneath layers of jargon. So the very best communications professionals and leaders understand that simple isn’t dumbed down – it requires much more skill to deliver a message in a way that anyone can understand and then act upon.

We are indoctrinated as emerging leaders to parrot the latest management jargon and to build complex “non-answers” to difficult questions. But who does this serve? Does it help us as leaders reach and connect with the people that work for us and with us? Does it help us convince customers to trust us and buy from us? The answer is typically a resounding no.

Imagine if every leader spoke in a more human way. If when holding a company Town Hall, your CEO spoke to you as a human being and not as a walking corporate dictionary.If when faced with a difficult question, they answered it.

It comes back to empathy and understanding. The root of all effective communication!

There are so many more tips and tricks for more effective communication and I coach professional women who are aspiring to, or new to leadership on how to do this. It’s a game changer for feeling comfortable and confident at work and leading with purpose.

Louise is offering coaching power hours this summer on how to communicate effectively at work, using some of the techniques in the article. Please book via this link https://www.louisethompsoncoaching.com/powerhour.

This article was written by Louise Thompson, one of Careering into Motherhood’s Partner Coaches. Louise is a leadership coach focused on supporting professional women navigate their careers with confidence and clarity. Her experience as a senior leader in the NHS and within industry lends her a valuable insight into the challenges that women face in leadership roles.

Book a free discovery call with Louise to find out more about her coaching approach and how it can benefit you.