Seeking feedback on your communication will enhance your leadership presence today

Being an excellent leader requires being able to communicate well. Sometimes, that requires a change in the way a leader communicates. For example, during the last NFL season, Dak Prescott, the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, realized that he needed a way to communicate timing more effectively with his offense. He changed up his cadence call to “Here We Go” so that everyone on the offense would know the timing of the snap. By changing up his communication he was helping the team be better.

Have you ever thought that you did a good job communicating something only to find out later that what you thought you communicated is not what people thought you meant to communicate? You are not alone. Many people think that they communicate clearly and get frustrated when they don’t get the results for which they were hoping.

A communication gap happens when your intent is not received

This is why seeking feedback on your communication is so important. When I was leading a team of engineers (and I am not an engineer by either education or personality), I learned this lesson. Weekly we met as a team to talk about our progress towards our plan. As the leader, I set the vision for the organization and worked to help the team make progress toward that vision. I leaned heavily on communication styles that had worked in my previous leadership roles, assuming that the team was following what I was saying because when I asked if everyone was clear on what we were doing and how we were doing it everyone nodded. When I asked whether anyone had questions, no one spoke up. While not speaking up didn’t cause us to miss a deadline, it did slow down our progress on working together to achieve our goals.

After one of these meetings, a member of the team came into my office and asked if he could talk with me. He told me that what he was about to say was difficult for him to bring to me and might also be difficult for me to hear. He told me that many of the team had no idea what I was saying sometimes, but they were afraid that if they spoke up, I would be upset. Wow. That was hard to hear. I am not sure why they were afraid to speak up. It may have been because of past experiences or their nature. Whatever the reason, I wanted to be a good leader, and getting feedback that my communication wasn’t effective was important to me. I thanked this individual and asked what he thought might help the situation.

After giving it some thought, he suggested we have a sign or codeword that anyone on the team could use to signal they weren’t following what was being said. If everyone on the team used this code word, then no one individual would feel embarrassed or awkward about it. The code word we chose was “bridge out.” Whenever this was said in a meeting, whether one-on-one or the whole team, we would pause and clarify before continuing on. While I never would have come up with the solution on my own, this code word worked wonderfully for flagging what I was not communicating adequately for this team, and I learned to communicate better with others who don’t communicate in the same way. I also learned that asking open-ended questions is a better method to get feedback. For example, when I asked at the end of the meeting whether anyone had questions, it was easy for them to just nod. Instead, had I asked the question in this way: “What help can I provide to help in achieving our goal?” it may have encouraged more dialogue and led to more clarity sooner.

Close the feedback loop to communicate better

I was thankful to the individual who stepped up to give me feedback. This example reminds me of the importance of actively seeking feedback to ensure a message is received. While I was lucky this individual took it upon themselves to reach out, I should have checked in with team members individually to ensure my messages were understood.

We may think that if we say something once the message has been received and whatever we communicated needed to happen will happen. Then we are frustrated when we are told that people didn’t know what to do or didn’t realize that we wanted something to happen. I recently heard someone say that he had failed as a leader, because he hadn’t been regularly communicating the status towards the vision and goals. There may be many things that get in the way of effective communications. Realizing that your communication isn’t as effective as you’d like it to be and seeking feedback is the first step towards fixing the issue.


Five steps to more effective communication

Effective communication is important because it nurtures relationships, creates trust, gets things done, accurately conveys information and ideas, and promotes learning and growing.

Here are five steps to more effective communication that you can use right now:

1) Get out of your own way

2) Assume positive intent

3) Continually hone your skills

4) Slow down and listen

5) Seek Feedback


Step 1: Get out of your own way. Don’t get stuck in your own head thinking about what you want to say and forget to pay attention to your audience. Remember your goal is to deliver a message to others, not yourself. Think about the approach that works best for your team and seek input on how best to communicate with them.

Step 2: Assume positive intent. Come from a place of empathy and acceptance of others. Embrace thinking that is different from your own and create space for others to express themselves fully. Assume the people you are communicating with have positive intent and want a good outcome.

Step 3: Continually hone your skills. Look at how you are communicating and be honest with yourself about how you could improve your communication. Make sure that your words and actions are aligned, when you don’t “walk the talk” people will notice and that undermines what you communicate. Let people know you are working on improving your communication skills and seek input from others. Nobody communicates perfectly, but everyone appreciates the effort to improve.

Step 4: Slow down and listen. Seek first to understand and then to be understood. Our brains are always seeing patterns and using those to predict what is coming next. This has helped humans evolve but is not good for effective listening. Slow down and take the time to hear the other person and respond genuinely rather than reacting to what you think they are saying. Listening to understand is the highest form of active listening. Active listening contributes to more effective communication.

Step 5: Seek Feedback. As you communicate with individuals or groups, find ways to seek feedback to whether your messages are coming across as intended. It’s best to ask open-ended questions when seeking feedback so that you get actionable feedback rather than less informative one-word answers.

Effective communication builds confidence, leadership presence, and helps you be an excellent leader. If you would like more tips like those in this blog, join our leadership community at and join our membership site at

Debbie Collard has 30+ years of leadership experience. She served on the National Baldrige Foundation Board of Directors for 15 years, including as the first female Chair of the Board. She is an iPEC- and ICF-Certified Professional Coach and co-author of The Making of a World- Class Organization, a practical guide for leaders to engage employees and increase profitability.

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