Speak up

Departments - Business Minds

Keep the communication stream steady during the rough and calm times.

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January 6, 2016

On a recent family vacation, we decided to go kayaking. As they were short on individual kayaks, my father and I agreed to go tandem. He is extremely experienced, so we were both happy to have him in the driver’s seat.

Photo: Dreamstime.com

The river started off gently and we enjoyed talking as we meandered. It wasn’t, however, until we hit the rougher patches that our need to communicate about what we were doing became readily apparent.

Healthy relationships between leaders and employees are, like our kayak trip, often filled with smooth, easy stretches characterized by laughter and light conversation. But there are the times when clear communication and synchronous teamwork are critical.

I left the river far more attuned to the importance of communication skills with tasks involving more than one person. Here’s what I learned:

There’s little need to communicate when working by yourself. When you’re working alone, you get to make split decisions, only look after yourself and don’t need to explain yourself or convey your plan. You simply execute it. Wonderful if you’re kayaking by yourself or you’re a solo entrepreneur. Not so helpful when you’re leading a team.

When you’re leading a group of any size, clear communication is paramount to satisfaction and success. Just as it does between a boss and an employee, it took my father and me a while to iron out our communication glitches. As it was impossible for him to see through my head, he had to let me know that I needed to speak up and be specific. For example, my saying, “Rock right,” was far more helpful than being silent or saying, “There’s a rock ahead.” Once we got our signals clear, the trip became both easier and more enjoyable.

Trust is far easier when communication is ongoing. While I trusted my father knew what he was doing, there were times I was convinced we were going to crash. At one point I stopped paddling toward what I considered impending doom. In doing so I caused us to smash into a tree I desperately wanted to avoid. After that mishap and realizing I wasn’t as experienced as he is, my father committed to helping me feel safer by simply saying, “I’ve got it, keep paddling.”

Leaders need to empower employees to find their voice and step up to the plate. In the beginning, I expected my father to choose the way without any input from me. While I was trying to be respectful, I failed to take into account that I could see the river better because of my position in the kayak. Once he let me know it would be helpful for me to speak up, I felt comfortable communicating the best path. It was a lot more fun and far smoother with my input.

Followers need to listen and trust their leaders as they often have information and can see the bigger picture. As we neared the end of our trip, my father let the others know they needed to stop at each bridge so they wouldn’t shoot past the poorly marked turnoff. If they missed it, they would either have to paddle up stream or go miles further down the river. While they stopped at the first bridge, they shot past the second one and had to paddle up stream. Had they listened, they would have expended far less energy backtracking.

As you lead, look for communication breakdowns; have honest conversations; set clear expectations; and empower your employees. Doing so will vastly improve the probability that glitches will lead to increased satisfaction and success.

Dr. Sherene McHenry, the author of Pick: Choose to Create A Life You Love, is passionate about creating healthier relationships and better bottom lines. sherene@sherenemchenry.com