Having worked as a Head of Comms in a previous career, I know as well as anyone that communication can feel like a thankless task. Whatever you communicate, however you craft it, whichever platform you use, there can be a sense that it hasn’t quite hit the mark – and of course, there’s always someone out there who has a different view on how it could have been done better.

As leaders, we spend so much time planning and delivering communication – it’s an essential part of the job to get right. Yet, we often hear from clients that “our communication is like wading through treacle”, “things just don’t seem to land” and “despite having communicated things what feels like a hundred times, people just don’t seem to have got the memo (or even be interested in the memo).” 

Sound familiar?


The communication illusion 

It brings to mind that brilliant quote from George Bernard Shaw that “the greatest problem with communication is the illusion that it’s been achieved.” How often, as leaders, do we find false comfort in the belief that the communication we sent out into the ether did its job, only to realise weeks later that in fact, not only did it not do its job, it didn’t even reach the troops. 

If we take communication back to the drawing board, what is it that we are really trying to achieve? Are we trying to educate, inspire, change behaviour, challenge current thinking? Or are we trying to build trust, reputation, credibility or excitement around something? It can be all and none of these, but whatever your communication objective it is, it all starts with one thing. 


The art of connection 

We’ve all seen the results from the regular employee survey where the trend is that people want more, better, different communication from the company and its leaders. We’ve also all witnessed the scurrying effort to address this with more email updates, another bi-weekly newsletter and perhaps even some opportunities for the holy grail of ‘two way’ communication. Sadly, we’ve all been there when the next round of survey results come back and our people STILL want more, better, different communication. So what is going wrong?

99.9% of the time when people ask for more communication, what they’re really asking for is more connection. Not more emails, not more briefings, not more broadcasts. Instead, more meaningful interactions and conversations that create understanding and emotional connection. As leaders, if we can completely reframe the way we look at communication and focus on the art of true connection, rather than the transaction of communication – this is where the magic starts to happen. 


From treacle to transcendence – my eight top tips: 

1) Find the way to connect  

Instead of working on a communication plan that is focused on “how are we going to communicate this to people?”, swap it out with “how are we going to connect with people around this?” This simple mindset shift will transform your thought process around it. Consider questions such as what is this audience interested in, what do they care about, what will motivate them about this, what concerns will they have, who will they trust and respect to hear about this from, how can we create space for them to process and chat about this? 

As human beings, we are born wired for connection, it’s an intrinsic part of our DNA. As adults, we connect to each other when we relate to one another – as leaders, we need to find the ways to relate to our people in order to conquer true connection. 


2) Be a communication chameleon 

You’re different from me, and all of the people you work alongside. We are all unique humans with a variety of preferred working, learning and communication styles. Kinetic learners absorb information by participating, visual learners learn by sight, and auditory learners like their information by sound. That’s before you even consider personality types, the ways in which people prefer to exchange, explore and converse and the fact that many people need an element of variety (or communication becomes wallpaper).

This means that, as a leader, we need to be a communication chameleon – bringing different colours, approaches, platforms, mechanics and styles in order to create connection with different groups, generate excitement and anticipation and show our own unique leadership (and human!) personality. This includes verbal, written and visual multimedia. Being a versatile communicator (and connector) is top of the list for leadership brilliance – push yourself out of your comfort zone, mix it up and learn as you go, knowing that imperfect leadership communication that is authentic and brave goes a long way.


3) Right communication, right way 

Often when we need to communicate something, we revert to type and go for what seems like the fastest, easiest way – the way that enables us to tick that communication box off our list for the day. However, this is so often where we get into trouble and where the communication penny fails to drop. This has been excarbetared through the pandemic and continues to be as many organisations navigate hybrid working.  

Reverting to type often means the use of email (and long ones at that). This is where the true wading through treacle stuff happens. For senior leaders who need to communicate with their people (and hybrid working means they can’t physically be around them), try replacing that furious typing with hitting record on your phone or laptop to capture a short video or piece of audio. Imagine reading a film script as opposed to watching it play out on the big screen and you’ll get the idea. Take some time to reflect on your usual communication approach – be brave, try something new and you’ll connect with people in completely new ways. 


4) Encore une fois

As humans, we often need to hear the same message multiple times to help it sink in, but also to sustain and embed the behaviour or habit it’s promoting. We are all bombarded with thousands of messages every day, in all formats from a multitude of people. A frequent mistake that leaders make is to think that everyone has received and absorbed the message that they have communicated. 

Humans also need to not only hear a message in a variety of ways but have the chance to unpick it, explore it, discover what it means for them. When you’re sending out messages, never assume they’ve been digested. Never assume yours has been heard. Instead repeat it and check in to make sure it’s been heard (in a human way). Create conversations around your communication to help people connect to it individually, including what it means for them. 


5) Conversation without agenda 

Sandwiched between communication and connection is an important filling – conversation. Conversations are crucial to building connection and promoting understanding and empathy. Honest and open conversations (rather than the ‘as per my last email’ chaser) avoid wasted time, misunderstandings, nip conflict and tension in the bud and boost collaboration. I’ll often say to leaders that the only communication that can ever be grounded in truth and true understanding is conversation. 

A piece of advice we give to leaders every week is to create opportunities for conversation without agenda – this means conversation with no specific purpose or outcome. Call three people each week for no reason other than to chat and see how they are (this will be met with suspicion at first but after a while, becomes the norm). Launch a company coffee roulette where everyone has a virtual coffee with someone new each fortnight. The discovery of invaluable information, insight and collaboration opportunities spring directly from conversations, whilst also building the human to human relationship.


6) Say goodbye to jargon 

Jargon, buzzwords and corporate-speak are rife in the twenty-first century, they litter emails and company communications, but they make people switch off and lose interest. When you think about how you communicate with people, remember that words create worlds.  Carefully selecting which words you use and the resulting world which they create, both internally for your people and externally to the world, is crucial. It’s brilliant when a company shows its human side and can also clearly explain what they do and what they stand for. 

As leaders, it’s up to you to set the standard for brilliant communication. Always use plain language and as few words as possible, this means nothing should ever be unclear and nor will it alienate people in the business. Replace boring words with exciting ones – expand your language repertoire with colourful adjectives as if you were reading a bedtime story to your child.  And on that note, if a six-year-old could understand your communication, you’re winning. Simple. 


7) Ask great questions 

Questions unravel and unwrap so much.  If you don’t ask great questions, you’re keeping a door locked on a room full to the brim of incredibly useful information. Humans like to be asked questions (especially great ones), and as our favourite topic is usually ourselves we are happy to answer in detail. Being able to extract people’s thoughts, opinions, motivations and insight through brilliant questions is an essential leadership skill. 

When leaders ask their people great questions, it leads to innovations, improvements and a bank of true insight that helps leaders to think about how people can thrive in the business and what their future plans would look like. It also builds connection and trust because we’re listening to others. It was Einstein who said “if I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend the first 55 minutes thinking of the best question to ask.” Right on, Einstein.


8) People will never forget how you made them feel

The late, great Maya Angelou said ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ It’s plain and simple. If you think about someone you know, you’ll immediately know how you feel when you are around them without remembering all of the conversations you’ve ever had. 

Whenever I ask clients to tell me about the best leader they’ve ever had (which I do often), without fail I hear stories of leaders who made people feel listened to, valued, trusted, respected – the list goes on. The point is brilliant leadership is a feeling we leave with people – every day and in a legacy long after. 


Leave the communication treacle behind 

No matter how fast-paced and innovative technology gets and how busy our daily lives become, humans will still have the same needs. We all have a need to feel safe, like we belong, to feel connected and to feel valued. It’s only then that we have the desire to be our best – and how we communicate as a leader is central to this. 

The reality of the world we live in is that our brains evolve at a snail’s pace compared to the dazzling progress that the technology sector has made. The result is that our brains and our needs aren’t always in sync with our daily interactions – which have become less human and more transactional.

At Jester, as part of our progressive work we love to help leaders and companies to elevate their communication and create cultures based on connection. Get in touch to explore how we can help transcend your communication treacle: team.jester@leadhappy.co.uk