What does your communication style say about your culture?


Every company, department or team needs a leader. Leaders set the tone for the organization’s culture. It is a proven fact. Can you have a successful company without a CEO? Do football team captains play a major role in a winning season? Does a cruise ship need a captain to reach its destination safely? A focus on leaders is the natural design of how we operate as a society. So what education/training should be offered to develop the leaders, the influencers needed to grow your company, establish your branded culture, and obtain your business revenue goals of tomorrow?

Let’s focus on one of several key attributes a leader should possess: the ability to communicate effectively.

There are several ways we, as a society, currently communicate:
•  Verbal: face-to-face, words, tone
•  Written: email; text; tweet
•  Non-Verbal: body language
•  Interpretation of environment: atmosphere, cultural styles

Your current and future leaders need to be able to communicate in all these ways because today is different than yesterday and it will be different tomorrow. It is a continual change.

However, no matter what method you communicate through, there are some things that will not change.

Perception is Reality
How others hear you and how they see you is reality to them, not your interpretation of the situation. If you are speaking with an individual who is constantly looking at their iPhone or staring at what the person behind you is doing rather than focusing on you as the center of their attention, what is your perception? Do you believe that they are truly listening and showing you respect as an individual?

Perception is reality, and whether or not you are listening intently while staring off into the distance during a conversation, the individual you are engaged with will interpret you as disinterested, rude, and disengage quickly. Do you want a workplace culture that is perceived as being disinterested in people? Future leaders must have a high degree of self-awareness along with the ability to observe and adjust on a dime. Organizations must invest in their people to improve self-awareness, understand that perception is reality, and proactively deal with impact of communication on their overall culture.

Don’t kill the messenger
First impressions represent 80% of what people think of you – period. This occurs within the first 90 seconds or less. To change an impression requires a lot of work over many hours, sometimes even days. You have heard that one “Oh S___” will replace 50 “Atta boys” in 5 seconds! This is the same with first impressions. In today’s world of speed, your words or letters and their delivery will either capture their attention or eliminate it.

Body language tells its own story. Awareness of your facial expressions, your stance, and your eye contact (to name a few) can create a perception that is very negative or very positive and inviting. In addition, behaviors are interpreted as actions, whether they are verbal or not. What is your organizational culture telling you if during a manager’s meeting everyone is sitting around the table with their arms folded and checking their phones? Learning more about non-verbal communication may actually help you reach your ROI!

Big Bang explosions create lasting scars
We mentioned earlier that change is constant. If an organization wants to meet their revenue targets, they must be able to live through constant change and reduce any type of chaos associated with how work gets done differently. We are hearing that current and future cultures must embrace this to stay competitive. It then becomes a key responsibility of the leaders to bring people through the stages of change as quickly as possible. Some company cultures that experience continual change have often felt that the Big Bang style is the best; as everyone is an adult, they need to get over the past, live with the modification, and get on with it. They proceed to toss all modifications on the table at once and basically tell their people accept it or move on.

Have you experienced this? If so, what was your personal reaction? What did your colleagues think and how did they act? Did people’s behavior differ when the next change was introduced? Did it help you become more productive? Experts say, no. This causes people to wish for the past and how things use to be, blocking them from moving forward and slowing down your team and productivity. Leaders of tomorrow must learn the techniques to eliminate the scaring effects of a Big Bang explosion.

These are just a few examples of how communication can impact your organizational culture. They are not taught or practiced in high school or college. Rather, for companies that are truly serious about their future, it becomes part of their leadership development as they grow leaders for the changing needs of their company’s future.

What about your communication style?
Are you aware of how your communication style impacts your culture? Is it the impact you want? What one change in communication style would you make if it returned a better outcome? Let me know your thoughts by commenting below.

Photo Credit: Sebastien Wiertz photo – altered FlickR version

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Carey MacConnell is the Vice President and Co-founder of Voyager Leadership Training, a group that focuses on growing competent, confident leaders through proven techniques she successfully embraced in her 30 year career in leadership positions. She works with current and future leaders to help them transform themselves, their teams and organizational culture through embracing accountability, collaboration, trust, change and creativity resulting in superior business achievements. She has spoken at several industrial conferences on the subject of Safety and Culture. She is the author of “The Leadership Code of Conduct; Culture Change Made Simple.”

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • George Megrichian

    Concise and to the point. Great article.

    • Carey MacConnell

      Thank you!

  • Norman Jentner

    Carey, these are all great points. But I am afraid most people think they are probably doing OK in these regards. Do you have any pointers to assist people to better understand how they can determine if they, themselves, should do any personal exploration here? And if so, how might they begin this exploration?

    • Carey MacConnell

      Your are correct, unfortunately many leaders may think they are communicating well. If you see that you constantly have to repeat messages, refocus your team to the objectives, or intervene due to conflicts you might want to reassess your communication style.

  • Thom Powell SPHR

    Thanks for sharing, Carey! Style is highly related to culture. I’m exploring a tool which provides insights into this important relationship, and would welcome involvement. If you’d be interested in reviewing some free reports and providing feedback, please complete survey-insight.iopt.com and/or contact me at thomleader@yahoo.com.

    • Carey MacConnell

      Thanks Thom I will contact you. Carey

  • http://www.voyagerleadershiptraining.com Carissa Giblin

    Hi Carey, your article reminds me of the time I joined an existing team – when you mention how people reacted when the next change was introduced. The leader presented the latest on a new initiative matter-of-factly; and since it made sense and sounded practical; I jumped on the bandwagon – doing a lot more than the others to make the change stick. Well, part way through the project, they reversed direction and my initial reactions weren’t the most helpful. I was annoyed that my efforts were for nothing – the scarring you talk about. So the next time we talked about changes, I understood why the rest of the team wasn’t jumping through hoops to make it happen.

  • Guest

    What trends are you seeing develop as long term employees retire and new employees join the organization especially in regard to generational differences? Will “every” company someday be as great of employer as places like Google in order to survive?