Effective Communication for School Leaders

Ever feel like you are playing the game of telephone with your staff?  By the time the message gets back around to you or someone questions you about what they heard, the message has totally changed.  What went wrong?  Where did the message break down? 

Merriam-Webster defines communication as: ”1a: a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior.” To make this communication effective, we have to successfully exchange information.

Many times what we don’t say is as important as what we do say. Nonverbal communication encompasses our appearance, body language including facial expressions, posture, gestures, eye contact, personal space, and tone of voice. As a result, our message can be confirmed, contradicted, or confused by our presentation of the verbal and the nonverbal messages we are sending.

Another aspect to consider is the perspective of the listener.  I learned this early in my career as a manager.  If a person has a bias or positive/negative experience that affects the interpretation of the message you are trying to convey, they will hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest of the message.  Understanding your audience or staff becomes a critical part of the message you are attempting to communicate.

Here are some tips that may help improve communication with staff so the message is effectively received.

  1. Learn to listen.  ‘Wait what?  You just said effective communication not listening.’ Communication is an “exchange”. You have to be able to hear and listen to what your staff is saying to be able to understand their perspective.  If you understand what they are saying by really listening to them, you will be more effective at giving them the information they need and a better answer or solution to their problem or need. 
  2. Understand the staff’s perspective regarding what you are communicating. Is your staff already really frustrated by the situation you are attempting to repair?  Acknowledge that frustration first before you offer a solution. This helps the listener to be more open to what you have said because you have just demonstrated empathy for their feelings.
  3. Message Clarity. Things you can ask yourself when you are communicating something new, “Is what I am saying clear and understandable to my target audience?”  I will often read something out loud and engage the auditory part of my brain to see if what I am saying makes sense.  Also using another person as a sounding board is effective in making sure you are clear.  Then once the message is conveyed, ask for them to communicate it back to you.  Did they hear and interpret the information the way you intended? If not then you need to add additional clarity.
  4. Lastly, wait before responding to a stressful or difficult email or conversation.  Taking a moment to calm down or a deep breath will keep you from saying something you regret.  Giving yourself time to digest a frustrating email by waiting a couple of hours will give you more perspective and most likely soften your response.  By waiting you will avoid escalation of a difficult situation by giving an angry knee-jerk reaction. This has saved me from saying something I couldn’t take back more than once in my career.

We are all on the same side.  The side of helping our students to grow and learn in a positive and successful environment.  Sending clear messages, listening to the needs of the staff, and being aware of what we are communicating nonverbally will all help us to reach that goal!

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