Saying vs. Telling: Communication Works Best When It’s Conversational

RL03-02-2015_4In both our careers and personal lives, strong communication skills can be one of the most important drivers of success. From achieving goals, building relationships, staying innovative, or leading a company, as a leader it’s vitally important to ensure your vision is being effectively communicated. And though the means by which we interact with each other are constantly evolving, the power that lies within a clear, concise conversation remains the same.

So, when the lines of communication get crossed—or altogether break down—the impact on productivity, teamwork, and success can be profound.

In a recent Refresh Leadership poll, we asked our readers what they believe is the biggest cause of workplace communication breakdown. The responses included many common communication killers, like unclear goals, lack of follow-up, and disengaged workers. However, the number one response by a wide margin put the blame on leadership.

That’s not necessarily saying anyone who struggles with communication is a bad leader. It could simply mean there’s a disconnect between what a workforce needs and what their leaders are equipped to provide. Communication styles may be out of alignment and changing due to any of a variety of factors, like technology, generational characteristics, and evolving processes and procedures.

A recent Harvard Business Review article put it like this:

“Globalization, new technologies, and changes in how companies create value and interact with customers have sharply reduced the efficacy of a purely directive, top-down model of leadership. What will take the place of that model? Part of the answer lies in how leaders manage communication within their organizations—that is, how they handle the flow of information to, from, and among their employees. Traditional corporate communication must give way to a process that is more dynamic and more sophisticated. Most important, that process must be conversational.”

Keep it conversational
So, what are the key elements of a successful conversation? There’s really not a one-size-fits-all approach. The main point to remember is that communication is a two-way street. Just as companies focus on building engagement strategies around fostering and encouraging conversations with their customers—it’s equally important to build those open, back-and-forth relationships with employees.

A few important factors to consider when trying to have better conversations include:

Understand Your Audience
Who are you talking to? A Baby Boomer who prefers face-to-face interactions or a Millennial who would much rather send a text or attend a meeting remotely via Skype? As mentioned earlier, the means by which we can have a conversation are becoming more technically advanced and diverse. So, it’s important to stay up to date on how people are communicating and be able to flex to a style or technology that best suits your message and your audience.

Stay on message
To truly engage and have a meaningful conversation, you have to stay on message. Constantly shifting focus by following every rabbit trail or random thought that comes to mind can be frustrating. Stick to the topic at hand and make notes about unrelated points you want to circle back to later.

Listen and be open
Most importantly, listen. Waiting for your opportunity to talk is not listening. You have to be present and move with the ebb and flow of the conversation. Be prepared to consider other points of view and remember that an effective conversation should be an exchange of ideas. Going in with too rigid of an agenda could stifle a big idea.

How has communication breakdown affected your team? What do you do to encourage more effective and open conversations? Let us know in the comments section below.

4 Responses to Saying vs. Telling: Communication Works Best When It’s Conversational

  1. Ruth Plant March 3, 2015 at 8:50 am #

    In a conversation the group consists of talkers and thinkers. Talkers may hijack the conversation and overlook input of others. I suggest the group give pause and allow the thinkers to articulate and express their ideas and not lose out on valuable input.

  2. Paula D March 13, 2015 at 10:11 am #

    “Be prepared to consider other points of view and remember that an effective conversation should be an exchange of ideas.” No matter what communication style an individual or group prefers, everyone must be open. I am experiencing the type of communication where leadership’s response to questions, ideas and suggestions is, “That’s not going to happen” and “That’s not possible” and “An answer to that is not required at this time” which effectively ends the conversation and shuts down the employees’ desire to generate and share new ideas and to even ask questions. Leadership is missing out on good ideas and the opportunity to develop talent.

  3. Rebecca S/Riv September 27, 2016 at 2:39 pm #

    This was a great reminder not to forget the basics…


    1.) Go beyond the information to the audience. This means I need to consider how others can assimilate the information. Technology for instance can be very time efficient , and user friendly.

    2.) Stay on Point…focus on the information at hand and stay off unrelated subjects. Be brief, and to the point.

    3.)Two way street. Be a good listener, really try to relate to new ideas instead of thinking forward to my own solutions, but be willing to brain storm together as a team for better productivity.

    4.) Success can be profound when we take time to improve our knowledge, and be open minded. We all need to be more of the solution, not the problem.

    Thanks, Becca


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