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Collage "I need a positive message"

Leaders always communicate …
but are they aware what?

Particularly in tough times with Covid 19 and remote Leadership with digital means don’t forget about the basic principle of human communication!

After many years having dealt with leaders, I thought there is not much that could surprise me. But let me share a recent experience:

A couple of days ago like many of us I was on in zoom-call with a former colleague, talking about the one major topic that still concerns us all. Covid 19 has changed our lives and the way we are managing or leading our staff. However, there are still fundamental principles that continue to apply. “You won’t believe”, my former colleague told me, “a senior manager at our company did not communicate with some of his staff for the last two months!” As she waited for a reaction from my side, I responded the following: “Well, I am absolutely sure he is constantly communicating to his staff!” However, he might not be aware of the message he is communicating. If I were one of his direct reports effected, I would read the message of his communication as: “My boss does not care about me at all!”

It is surprising to me that with all the great digital means we have nowadays, some leaders seem to have forgotten about a fundamental communication principle. Namely what the Austrian psychologist Paul Watzlawick postulated: You cannot not communicate!

Therefore, think about what you are communicating when…  

  • You don't respond to an email while somebody is desperately waiting for your input!


  • You turn off the camera in video meeting (not because off band width)!


  • In the video meeting you are chairing two participants don't get a chance to speak!

Whether you talk about verbal and non-verbal communication or formal versus informal communication for me it's always about two layers or levels.

The first level is “factual”, the pure words we are using, the graphs and numbers depicted on a chart or the landscape or people shown on a picture. Additionally, there always is a second level which is relation (some studies say it makes 70-80% of our communication). The marketing gurus perfectly play with it when addressing our desires and making us feel needs we never thought about.

For a good leader it is vital to be able to address that second level. Only through a relation leadership competence critically important in the digital age can be demonstrated. Being authentic, showing empathy and focusing on all audiences requires a lot of good second level communication.

Consequently, I suggested to my former colleague: “There is probably not that much you can do about that manager’s behaviour – besides giving him some feedback and make recommendations - but there is a lot you yourself can achieve with consciously using the second level communication also with digital means!” For example

  • Choose the right channel for written communication (emails more formal, chat informal) and match technology to task (e-mails for information, more one way, video for interaction!
  • In writing we tend to be more negative (use more positive words or emojis)!
  • People read differently, be crystal clear in writing!
  • Start your verbal and/or visual communication with a compliment!
  • Surprise your audience (e.g. with a gift, a joke)!

I am sure everybody can enlarge that list with own practical ideas. Small experiments can have a big impact! Therefore, try it and have fun!

Looking forward to your comments and reactions!

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