I don’t need communications lessons… everyone always understands everything I say

I have been teaching leadership classes for at least 35 years. That includes formal and informal classes in the Navy and in the civilian community. Whether it was for a large or small companies, the importance of purposefully developing skills and competencies has always been one of my passions.

Leadership involves more than just telling people where to go and what to do. It is a blending of understanding the types of people in the team as well as a using solid leadership skills to make sure that everyone is given the best opportunity to succeed.

This list is by no means complete, but the competencies we normally focus on include problem solving, team building, conflict management and a wide range of technical skills related to the group’s common goals. I have been asked a number of times which is the most important and frankly one always comes to the top:


More energy is spent and often wasted because of gaps in communication than for nearly any other reason. It is the root cause in too many failures. It can also be the primary reasons high functioning teams succeed.

But to get to that place, we spend time teaching the elements of communication that are often overlooked.

A typical outline would include these:

  • Define the three major elements that affect effective communications
  • Identify the key barriers to effective communication
  • State how Leadership Styles affect communications
  • List the eleven principles of leadership
  • State the four styles of communication
  • List the Five Keys to Successful Communication
  • Identify an effective strategy for feedback

I don’t intend to preview the entire course, but certain parts are critical to understand the basics.

In communication, there are always at least three elements”

  1. The “environment” in which the communication occurs
  2. The sender’s ability and point of view
  3. The receiver’s ability and point of view

As simple as those three elements may seem on the surface, they are fraught with complexity.

The environment can include things like the physical environment. The lessons we have learned during the Covid lockdowns have certainly shown that proximity is critical to how we communicate. The in-person encounter is difficult enough, but the addition of space and distance complicates the previously accepted tools. Body language is not as easy to interpret on a Zoom call and even the tones and attitudes are easier to disguise with ease.

Environment also includes the unseen.

Trust is part of the cultural environment. In many conflict situations, lack of truct is a huge environmental issue.

Underlying issues and agendas nearly always help break down effective communications. Words have meanings, but when there has been a series of trust breaches, the meanings often get lost in the haze.

The ability of the sender and receiver to find common words, meanings and terms is also critically important. Beyond trust, the backgrounds and experiences of the people involved with the communication can also create gaps.

At this point in the discussion, you might be thinking, Hey, Bob… I have been communicating all my life. Why do you assume I can’t communicate?

Excellent question.

All I can tell you is that maybe you are a master communicator that has never had an issue with your spouse, children or team. No one has ever asked you to explain what it was that you really meant to say and every outcome from your communications have been absolutely perfect. If that is the case, you can stop reading now. While I have never actually found a person like that in my fifty years of work life, there are literally billions of people on the planet I have not personally met and worked with.

For anyone still with me, I’ll move on now.

Because we routinely communicate on a daily basis you would think that we should already be experts

However, taking communications for granted would be a big mistake as there are many barriers to effective communications

The ten most commonly recognized barriers include:

  1. the environment
  2. noise
  3. stress
  4. judgment
  5. knowledge
  6. emotions
  7. biases and prejudice
  8. language
  9. fatigue
  10. distractions

No wonder it’s so easy to have ineffective communications. Every single one of us is subject to the effects of the ten items listed. Think about a situation where your communication failed. It’s a good bet that you can link that failure to at least one or more of the barriers listed.

This chart shows some additional ways communication becomes difficult. The perceptional screen is actually at play on both sides of the equation.

Your ability to communicate is affected by at least three additional factors:

Your own leadership style

The communications style you use

The receiver’s ability and point of view

Leadership Styles

There are various leadership styles, but they can usually be placed in the following three categories:

  1. Authoritative/autocratic
  2. Participative/democratic
  3. Delegator/free reign

Effective leaders use all styles when appropriate.


  • These types of leaders make all the decisions with no input or suggestions from anyone else. Team members usually have few opportunities to make suggestions or take initiative.
  • Autocratic leaders do not easily trust others and are therefore not comfortable delegating tasks to employees.
  • Most employees dislike this form of treatment and this can lead to absenteeism and a high staff turnover.
  • This style of leadership can be useful when decisions need to be made quickly and there is no need for input, or when agreement from others is not necessary


  • These types of leaders encourage team members’ suggestions when making decisions and will often consult others, but they make the final decision.
  • This style of leadership encourages a feeling of team unity and individual job satisfaction, and employees feel validated and motivated.
  • Participative leaders help to develop team members’ skills and capabilities and team members are not afraid to suggest ideas or try new things.

Delegator/free reign

  • These types of leaders let their team make the decisions, but they are still responsible for the consequences of the decisions.
  • The team usually consists of highly-skilled employees with vast experience and expertise.
  • Team members are given free reign in deciding how and when tasks will be performed, and they decide their own priorities.
  • Delegating leaders let their team progress with the project while they attend to other matters. They do not frequently interfere, but they do monitor the progress of the project and stay in communication with the team.

Leadership and communication

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. —Jack Welch

When you are not designated or performing as a leader, your communication styles and effectiveness will be determined by the situation. Typically it’s one on one and easier to manage. But once you become a leader, there is so much more involved. The best communicators are familiar with and practice these Leadership Essentials.

They are known as the 11 Key Principles of leadership

  1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement
  2. Be technically proficient
  3. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions
  4. Make sound and timely decisions
  5. Set the example
  6. Know your people and look out for their well-being
  7. Keep your people informed
  8. Develop a sense of responsibility in your people
  9. Ensure that tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished
  10. Train your people as a team
  11. Use the full capabilities of your organization

Communication styles also affect how well you are communicating. Every time we speak, we choose and use one of four basic communication styles:

  1. Aggressive

  2. Passive

  3. Passive Aggressive

  4. Assertive

Aggressive Style:

  • Aggressive communication nearly always involves manipulation
  • We may attempt to make people do what we want by making them feel guilt (hurt) or by using intimidation and control tactics (anger)
  • Whether its done up front or behind their backs, we want our needs met – and right now!
  • Although there are a few arenas where aggressive behavior is called for (i.e., sports or war), it will never work effectively in a relationship

Passive communication is based on getting along and hopes to avoid trouble at all costs

  • In this mode we don’t talk much, question even less, and actually do very little
  • Involves denying one’s own rights by failing to express honest feelings, thoughts & beliefs and consequently permitting others to violate oneself.
  • Passive communication also means expressing ones thoughts & feelings in such an apologetic and self-effacing manner that others can easily disregard them.

Passive Aggressive

  • A combination of styles, passive-aggressive avoids direct confrontation (passive), but attempts to get even through manipulation (aggressive)
  •  Involves the manipulative expression of thoughts, feelings & needs.
  • Indirect aggression masks direct aggression
  • It involves trickery, manipulation, seduction, thus violating the rights of others.
  • Denial follows confrontation.

Assertive Communication

  • The most effective and healthiest form of communication is the assertive style
  • People take responsibility for their own actions & choices
  • More open and honest communications in the Work environment
  • Assist in negotiation, problem solving, and conflict resolution
  • Pay offs:  The more you stand up for yourself and act in a manner you respect the higher your self esteem

The Styles We Choose…

  • Understanding the four basic types of communication will help you learn how to react most effectively when confronted with a difficult person
  • It will also help you recognize when you are using manipulative behavior to get your own needs met
  • Remember, you always have a choice as to which communication style you use

This article only scratches the surface on effective communications

Hopefully, it will help someone who really needs to hear that there are better ways to communicate.

Mister Mac

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