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Lykken on Leadership: The Seven Steps to Becoming a Better Communicator

Apr 06, 2015

When I speak with leaders in the mortgage industry about the challenges with which they grapple on a daily basis, there are several things that come to mind. Of course, I hear a great deal about adapting to the regulatory environment. I also hear a lot about vendor management and technological change. The list goes on and on. But, when I dig deeper, I found the heart of what makes all of these issues so challenging centers around a single variable: Communication.

The real difficulty in most business issues lies in how the messaging within those issues is sent and received. Are new regulations going to be properly understood so that they are properly accounted for? Are there going to be misunderstandings in the vendor agreement that causes resentment, or even litigation, later down the road? Have the benefits of the new technology been properly explained so that your people understand why they're using it? Do some brainstorming. Think about any issue your dealing with, ask yourself what really bothers you about it, and I'll bet that a struggle with communication is going to be in there somewhere.

At its core, good communication is all about clarity. Organizations often fail with their compliance, because they lack a clear understanding of the regulations—a breakdown of communication. Relationships with vendors often sour because clear expectations are not set for each party—another breakdown in communication. And, as I mentioned, people are often resistant to adopting new technologies because they down have a clear grasp on its purpose—communication breaking down yet again. Clarity is at the heart of great communication. As a leader in your organization, it's something that should always be at the forefront of your mind.

So, how can you become a better communicator? It isn't just about taking a class on public speaking. You've got to develop your character—who you are as a person and how you relate to people. To be a better communicator, you've got to be a better human being. Here's how to do it …

The first rule of communication isn't about how you send the message—it's about how you receive it. If you want to become a better communicator, you've got to start with becoming a better listener. In his classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie tells the story of how he once met a botanist at a party. He was fascinated by botany and knew little about it, so he asked the man to tell him about his profession. All night long, he listened and begged the man to go on. Finally, at the end of the night, Dale Carnegie was told that he was the greatest conversationalist the man had ever met—even though he had hardly said a word! Here's the thing, you cannot really know the best way communicate a message to people until you've heard from them first. When you listen, you discover what stage people are at in their knowledge. And you may even learn something you didn't know that could cause you to alter the message you wish to convey. Always, always listen before you speak.

The next step to becoming a better communicator is related somewhat to the first. You listen before you speak, not just because it helps you determine what words to say, but because it helps you determine how you will say them. Because the message isn't just about what you tell people—it's also about how you make them feel. As you're becoming a better listener, you should also focus on becoming more empathetic. You should always strive to put yourself in the other person's shoes. Ask yourself, how would I feel if I were receiving this message? When you can identify with someone on an emotional level, the right words to say will come naturally to you. And, more importantly, the people with whom you are speaking with feel like you care about them. And, as the saying goes, people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Lately, I've been really interested in the idea of transparency in leadership. Being more transparent can make you more trustworthy and build stronger character in you as a leader. And it is also absolutely essential in becoming a better communicator. Why is transparency so important in communication? Because it provides consistency. When you are open and honest in your communications, and don't hide your intentions or have ulterior motives, you won't be as likely to give people mixed signals. People will have a clearer idea of your expectations in your communications, because you will always be the same. People will be able to read you, because you will be an open book.

The next step to becoming a better communicator is being more accessible. No matter how good of a communicator you are, people are likely to have questions about your expectations. If they can't reach you, the communication will dissolve into confusion over time. Is your door open to your people? Can they reach out to you with their questions? How often to you check your email and other communications? If people can't get a hold of you when they need you, they will most likely simply guess about what you want from them. Don't give them that opportunity—be available.

Even if you have mastered all of pieces of communication so far, it will be all for naught if you disregard this next step. After you've covered the basics in becoming a better communicator, you then have to become more organized. Because, here's the thing—you can't remember everything. You cannot remember all of your commitments. You cannot remember all of the people with whom you need to follow up. You probably cannot remember much of what you say. So, you've got to keep track of it. Do you take notes on your conversations, meetings, and other interactions? You probably should. Communication without organization is unreliable; keep your communication on track by keeping track of your communications.

As you become a better communicator, you will always need fuel for your conversations. So, the next step to becoming a better communicator is to be more informed. If you have a firm grasp on what's going on in your company, the industry, and the world, your communications will have more context. You'll speak with knowledge and authority, and people will listen to what you have to say. Keep up on the current events--things that are happening from around the office to around the world. An informed communicator is an effective communicator.

Finally, after you've done all of this, yes, you can take a class on public speaking. The final step to becoming a better communicator is becoming more articulate. Yes, it will help to strengthen your oral communication skills. But it would also be helpful to broaden your vocabulary. Learn new words by reading literary fiction or long-form journalism. If you have the time, you might even try learning a new language. Either way, the final step is about improving the words you use and the way you use them so that the people with whom you are communicating can be better reached.

Going into the future, great communication is going to be what really sets great leaders apart from those who are mediocre. For the most part, all problems are—at their very core—people problems. When you can properly communicate with the people with whom you interact on a daily basis in business, you're well on your way to becoming the great leader I know you can be.

David Lykken is 40-year mortgage industry veteran who has been an owner operator in three mortgage banking companies and a software company. As a former business owner/operator, today David loves helping C-Level executives and business owners achieve extraordinary results via consulting, coaching and communications, with the objective of eliminating corporate dysfunction, establishing and communicating a clear corporate strategy while focusing on process improvement and operational efficiencies resulting in increased profitability. David has been a regular contributor on CNBC and Fox Business News and currently hosts a successful weekly radio program, “Lykken on Lending,” that is heard each Monday at noon (Central Standard Time) by thousands of mortgage professionals. He produces a daily one-minute video called “Today’s Mortgage Minute” that appears on hundreds of television, radio and newspaper Web sites across America. He may be reached by phone at (512) 501-2810 or by e-mail at [email protected].

This article originally appeared in the February 2015 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine.

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