Articles 2 min read

Improve trust with flexible communications

One of the biggest challenges every leader faces today (to different degrees and depending on the growth stage of their business) is to pivot, morph or transform, their organisation into one that is digitally coherent, viable and on a growth trajectory. Clearly, this is not a small task because every business is surfing an unprecedented wave of disruption, and many are struggling to adjust.

If the goal is to become a more adaptive organisation, then developing a better learning culture, with trust as its foundation, is a must.

When an organisation faces recurring challenges, it is often because the root causes were not clearly identified and addressed. For example, a project may face the same old road bumps; it’s not landing, delayed or over budget, people leave the organisation, there are unhelpful team dynamics, a business is struggling to grow, processes break down or weren’t bedded in, to begin with, negative wellbeing impacts and so on.

Increasingly, the root cause of many of these problems is not a lack of domain expertise, but rather a blend of 2 intangibles: insufficient trust and communication-skill gaps, between leaders and their teams. On 26 October 2022, I wrote ‘6 things you can do to improve the quality of your decisions and referred to how the human brain evolved, over millions of years, into a reptilian (fight or flight), mammal (comfort and routine) and primate (logical, visionary, strategic) layers.

From both a trust and skill perspective, unless people turn up to work in their visionary and reasoning selves, then becoming a truly agile company is less of an option. And all activities that require synergy and engagement are ineffective, including formal lessons-learned exercises. Formality and structure are important to create control but do little to foster trusting teams. This is an inside-out process, that calls for stepping back and relinquishing control.

Trust is a mental ambience a person enters into when showing up for work, and a lot of that is influenced by the quality, texture, and depth of communication a leader has established with her or his team. In my coaching with leaders, one of the areas we work on is adopting a more flexible communication style that reduces formality and improves relatability and trust.

Counterintuitively, although we may assume people in a team are resisting change are lazy, or not truly committed, what is often happening is that the values and drivers of their leader are different from theirs. A leader may value the achievement of certain targets or feel compelled to serve the organisation above all else (all good perfectly reasonable drivers), whereas a team member might prioritise affiliation, safety, job satisfaction and professional development.

It’s these intrinsic assumptions that cause many interactions to go south. Through flexible communication styles, you gradually learn to become a better listener, more inclusive, appreciate complementarity in roles and skills, and the variety and style of contributions to your organisation. By meeting people where there are, a trusting environment naturally becomes a learning environment. And a formal process is no longer needed.

What’s one thing you can do or learn to expand your range of communication skills?

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