November 01, 2018

Taking the Lead

Facilitating Effective Communication as a Leader

Mary E. Vandenack

One of the most important keys to leadership success is communicating effectively and facilitating effective communication throughout the workplace. Effective leaders motivate, inspire, promote accountability and create strategic alignment and shared vision. Accomplishing these requires effective communication.

Communication is two-way: outbound and inbound. Both aspects of communication must be considered to succeed in effective communication.

Effective two-way communication requires an understanding of the different ways that people receive inbound communications and express outbound ones. Communication styles vary. An effective leader will develop an understanding of varying communication styles and train others in the workplace in how to respond to them in a positive manner.

Law firms focused on facilitating workplace communication skills might have all those employed by the law firm take one of the available workplace preferences inventories. Typically, engaging a consultant who is an expert in team building and communications has significant value in educating firm leaders and employees in the particular inventory selected.

Outbound Communications

A leader seeking to engage in effective outbound communication skills should understand her or his own communication style. Is the leader typically direct and to the point? Or does the leader engage in small talk before getting to the point? Does the leader have a linear style of communication or a circular style? Does communication carry emotion, or is it typically impersonal? Is communication task-focused or relationship-focused?

The leader should also understand the communication style of her or his audience. What is the communication style of the recipient of the communication? A fast-paced communication to a slower-paced recipient will often be ineffective. A task-focused communication to a relationship-focused recipient may have an unintended negative effect on the feelings of the recipient.

When delegating, communication should be clear. In a law firm, effective execution is extremely important. Effective execution results from a clear understanding of what was delegated and what is expected. If a communication is verbal, follow up in writing or ask the recipient of the communication to provide a written summary of what was heard.

Be aware of articulation and tone of voice. Learn to be concise, avoid verbal pauses and have a clear plan for what you intend to communicate. Your tone of voice can impact trust and confidence, as well as result in persuasion. The tone of voice that leaders use varies by situation—but should always be considered.

Inbound Communications

People commonly focus on outbound communication and miss the inbound. Neglecting the inbound will almost always result in ineffective communication because the two-way nature of effective communication is missing.

The inbound aspect of communication requires effective listening skills. The first aspect of effective listening is to pause outbound communication and allow the other person the opportunity to speak. Then it’s important to be present and listen for the message that the other is conveying. Notice what is relevant in the communication. Taking the time to listen to what the other is saying and understanding the message before replying will result in fewer errors in the communication process.

Conflict Resolution

Conflicts will arise in the workplace. The effective leader understands that criticism, contempt, defensiveness and attacks will block the resolution of conflict. In resolving conflict the leader will establish rules for conflict resolution.

Starting the conversation to resolve a conflict is often best accomplished by an authentic expression of something positive about the other. Identifying the issue should be accomplished in a way that doesn’t have the effect of “you are the problem.”

Each person should be allowed to share her or his thoughts and concerns using “I” statements and avoiding statements about what she or he thinks the other’s thoughts and concerns are. Emotion should be accepted; however, if either participant becomes excessively emotional, a break should be taken.

Unhealthy communication habits can create havoc in the already intense environment of a law firm. Healthy and positive communication should be practiced at every meeting and every interaction. The law firm leader should seek to set an example of positive communication in every interaction—with clients, partners, employees and vendors. The leader should also hold everyone at the firm accountable for engaging in positive and effective communication.

Mary E. Vandenack

Mary E. Vandenack is a founding and managing partner of Vandenack Weaver LLC, in Omaha, Nebraska. She was named to the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center’s Distinguished Women of Legal Tech 2018. Email her.