Lessons in Effective Communication

A few recent anecdotes:

I once managed a salesman who, whenever I started to discuss with him a performance issue and my dissatisfaction with it, would complain that I “never told him that before.” As though every discussion had to have a predecessor to be valid. So each of those discussions would end with, “Well, I’m telling you now!” And what started as constructive criticism took on a much greater edge.

It’s about attitude.

A friend of mine commented that his wife noted to him that he doesn’t tell her how beautiful she is as much as he used to. But now when he pays her these little compliments, she asks if he is only saying that because she mentioned it, as though there is a disingenuous reason for wanting to pay a compliment.

A recent meeting among a management group to discuss a new business strategy received criticism because the dialog was not initiated earlier. Again, as though the discussion needed a predecessor to be valid. 

There are a few lessons I take away here that are important for anyone in a leadership position. Getting the timing and message right is one of the greatest challenges of leadership and relationships. It takes a lot of time, persistence and consistency. Great communicators – leaders – excel at simple, clear and frequent communications. 

The ease with which a message is received is directly proportional to the awareness the audience has in the importance of the message to the leader. This is where I failed on the strategic discussion – I didn’t message it frequent enough, with enough passion and priority, to ensure that the team understood it was in the TOMA Range: Top of Mind Awareness Range. I allowed too much white noise to distract the importance of the message.

Another lesson I take away from these anecdotes is communication frequency. Here is the thing – difficult discussions are easier if there are more discussions. It doesn’t matter if the discussions are positive, negative or neutral. Take the time to have dialog with someone, whether or not it is taking time to praise (in public, I hope) or criticize (in private for sure). If you have these conversations, then a dialog to criticize is easier because there is a trust built up and, importantly, the criticism will be perceived with much more credibility and sincerity.

We have all read the studies that say people leave jobs because of their manager, rather than for money. That is what this is about. Managing people successfully is more about communicating frequently and consistently, and making sure there is an appropriate balance between praise and criticism. Of course, the praise needs to be earned, just as does the criticism.

I am sure that those with whom I work will suggest that I should do more of what I am suggesting here in my own work. They’re right! I will say that the opportunity to prepare this blog gives me the opportunity to contemplate the anecdotes I have observed and learn from them. I plan on putting these into practice. 

And, I am going to go home and pay my wife a nice compliment.


“Communication is the real work of leadership.”

Nitin Nohria


“Communication is the LIFELINE of any relationship. When you stop communicating, you start losing your valuable relationship.”