Recognize the importance of effective workplace communication and create a culture around it.
We are all competing in an attention economy. From pings and dings to blinks and rings, companies and content constantly compete for our limited time and attention. How do great leaders turn down the noise and tune in to the messages that matter most? What does it take to be heard above the noise? And how do we create communication that cultivates community and connectedness in a distributed, distracted world? To address these questions, we started an interview series called “Can You Hear Me Now?: Top Five Strategies Leaders Use to Diminish Distractions & Win in the Attention Economy.” As a part of this interview series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Amelia Reigstad, PhD.
Dr. Amelia Reigstad, Ph.D. is a passionate change agent, author, speaker, communication consultant and coach with over two decades of industry experience. She has spoken on a global scale at many professional events and conferences and has taught a variety of communications courses across the U.S., Canada, Europe, and the U.K. With a passion for helping others, she consults and educates business professionals on the importance of understanding gender differences and communication styles and how this leads to more effective communication and productivity in the workplace. As a Twin Cities Business Magazine Notable Women Entrepreneur 2022 and founder of The Women Empowerment Series, she inspires and encourages women to use their voice to initiate change through authentic communication. To learn more, visit www.ameliareigstad.com.
Thank you for making time to visit with us. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is one of your most memorable moments, and what made it memorable?
One of my most memorable moments was completing my PhD in gender communications. Upon acceptance into the program at the University of Leicester in the U.K., I discovered I was pregnant with my first child — another memorable moment. Becoming a first-time mom, completing my doctorate, and working full-time was extremely challenging but I did it. Add in a global pandemic, a virtual defense of my dissertation and an online graduation ceremony certainly made for a memorable 7-year experience.
What is the most unexpected twist in your career story, and what did you discover from your detour?
Isn’t that the question. At the start of the pandemic, I was teaching at a top research university, turned 40, finished my doctorate degree and then decided I no longer wanted to teach anymore. Ha! This was certainly an unexpected twist in my career but I’m a firm believer in living my passion and I felt like my time teaching up-and-coming communications professionals had come to an end. Always one with a passion and love for education, I discovered that I could take my PhD dissertation and turn it into a business educating business professionals on the importance of effective workplace communication. My unexpected career twist has turned into an incredible journey!
According to a recent Harvard Business School study, the most essential communication skill for leaders is the ability to adapt their communication style. How do you adapt your communication style?
Understanding not only your own communication style but also the communication style of those you interact with daily is critical to successful working relationships. Over 97% of employees believe communication impacts their day-to-day so how leaders communicate with their teams is significant. One adapts their communication style by knowing and understanding it. There is a plethora of different assessments out there but the one I use the most is called Straight Talk. This assessment guides you on your communication journey, helps to determine your primary and secondary communication style and offers strategies to increase effective communication. To adapt your communication style, workplace situations need to be read and leaders need to know how their team members communicate. It’s true when they say, “everyone communicates differently,” so it’s important for leaders to do their homework and know different approaches to problem-solving, conflict and decision making — all through their communication style.
Clarity is critical as well. What lessons have you learned about how to communicate with clarity in our distributed world of work?
Not only do we need to be clear with our words, but we also need to be clear with our intent and this becomes even more significant when team members are working across different work modalities, locations, and time zones. I have learned that intent is worth more than gold — communicating with intention and being aware of your tone of voice, purpose and most importantly, the implication of what you are about to say is key. And clarity goes both ways. It’s also important to ask clarifying questions. If you don’t understand something, ask for clarity. Need more information, ask for it.
We often discover what works by experiencing what doesn’t. Tell us about a time when your communication didn’t lead to the desired results and what you learned from the experience.
Communication can be challenging. It wasn’t until I delved into learning more about my communication style, did I appreciate and learn from some of the mistakes I was making. For example, my communication style is that of a director or an expressor (if using the Straight Talk assessment) and qualities of these styles include being goal and people oriented, being direct, making decisions quickly and perhaps being insensitive or intimidating. I need to be cautious of my tone of voice especially in conflict situations. I certainly don’t want to offend anyone and there have been times when I’ve done just that because I wasn’t playing into my strengths of my style and recognizing my intent was off. I learned that I need to be cognizant of my communication style characteristics and most importantly learn the styles of those I communicate with the most so that we can have effective conversations with my team members.
What advice would you offer to other leaders who are struggling to have their messages heard and actioned?
Open the floor for impactful and authentic conversations. Ask team members for their input on your messages, both the content and the delivery. There is much to be said about how messages are delivered especially as we navigate a distributed workforce. Some team members like email, some like to use chat, others the phone and there is something to be said about delivering messages in-person/face-to-face. Match the content with the delivery and pay attention to how your team members want to be communicated to. What’s their communication style?
Leading a distributed team requires a different communication cadence and style from leading a team in person. What are five strategies any leader can deploy to improve communication and clarity when leading a distributed workforce? Please share a story or example for each of you can.
1 . Recognize the importance of effective workplace communication and create a culture around it.
Effective communication (or lack thereof) within an organization impacts every task, project, and person. It is critical for organization leaders to understand and recognize how important it is and take steps to ensure a positive workplace culture is created and effective communication is a priority. Do this by leading with intent and actively find ways within your organization to improve communication.
2. Know your audience.
Understanding how team members communicate is essential to creating a culture where communication and building trust between team members is a focus. It takes time so do your homework. How do team members like to receive information and through what channel? What are their personality traits and communication styles like? Taking the time to build an understanding of how team members communicate is imperative and helps to mitigate conflict in a distributed workforce.
3. Be cautious of your tone of voice.
When leading a distributed team, tone of voice is critical to communication effectiveness and can really make or break a conversation. The wrong tone of voice can cause conflict and frustration in the workplace, leads to lack of productivity, and can impact conversations negatively and set them on the wrong path. Choose words carefully and be aware of your pitch and inflection. It’s also important to pay attention to the medium you are communicating through. Whether through email, text messaging, phone, face-to-face or via video — tone of voice can be heard, so being aware and cautious of the tone of voice we use is important to building relationships and communicating effectively.
4. Become an active listener.
Listen to understand, not to reply. We’ve all been in conversations where words are sitting on the tip of our tongues waiting to be spit out but when we do that, we aren’t actively listening. Listening requires practice and involves focusing on the person who is speaking without interrupting them. Being actively engaged in the conversation through the use of body language (nodding of the head, etc.) is important. Once we have fully listened, we can begin to acknowledge and ask good, clarifying questions. Active listening means listening to connect.
5. Be authentic.
“Be fearlessly authentic. Bravely be you.” This is my favorite quote and resonates deeply because if we can’t be ourselves, who can we be? Being authentic with your team requires transparency, vulnerability, and integrity, however, this isn’t always easy. It can be challenging to open ourselves up but having the ability to be our authentic self builds stronger ties to our well-being, positive emotions, feelings of satisfaction and overall greater purpose in our lives. When we can live authentically and our team members see this, just imagine what that could do for your organization.
What are the three most effective strategies to diminish distractions when there is so much competing for attention?
Let’s be honest. It’s hard to diminish distractions especially because our world is full of them. I find it’s important to simply be aware. Be aware of the distractions and what is causing them. Put down your phone and avoid technology when communicating with team members. Technology can be so pervasive and it’s our responsibility as leaders to manage distractions. Another great strategy is to plan. Plan your week and schedule priorities so you are clearer on what you need to accomplish.
What is one skill you would advise every leader to invest in to become a better communicator?
Empathy. Being an empathetic communicator is key to leading a team in a distributed workplace. Listen and respond with empathy, acknowledge experiences, and know your response has impact. Having empathy helps us to connect and build rapport with our teams.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’m a firm believer in effective workplace communication, women empowerment, and gender equality. The Women Empowerment Series combines all three of these elements together to inspire and encourage women to use their voice to initiate change. This is a movement I hope will continue to reach women around the globe.
How can our readers stay connected with you?
My book, Virtual Communication Skills: How to Communicate Effectively in a Virtual Environment is available here.
Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.