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Balderdash or Good Comms - Your Choice as a Leader

“Balderdash - Senseless talk or writing; nonsense communication.”

I’ve learned the hard way that as a leader I have to watch what I say. When I’ve been unclear with my guidance, the results can look like my people were trying to navigate with a broken compass. When I really thought about what happened, it was my fault, not theirs that we didn’t hit the mark. How can the simple exchange of information and ideas get off course? It happens when we are not responsible with managing what we say and reactive with our communication. It’s balderdash!

On the flip side, when I am on my game and provide effective communication, my subordinates amaze me with their focus, ingenuity, and most importantly, the results! In the military we call it “good comms” (communications) when we have a clear signal and are understood. Here are a few things I have learned over the years that can help to trade balderdash for good comms and keep you and your people on course.

First, own your thoughts and take responsibility for your intent and purpose. This requires the act of preparing your message, words and thoughts proactively in advance of a speaking opportunity. There have been times I regretted not preparing my opening comments for a meeting or conversation, whether that is actually writing down my comments, or taking a short pause to collect my thoughts. However, when I planned out my message with short, clear phrases and ideas it helped me open strong or respond with focus. Communication for a leader requires clarity of thought, direction, and planning.

Next, engage in person-centered communication – be mindful of the effect of what you are saying, because words matter. An important step in effective communication is ensuring your language use and content is appropriate for the audience and situation. For example, some phrases or humor I use with my fellow Soldiers may not necessarily work for someone, let’s say, in my church study group. In this situation it would probably be better to choose more neutral words and a tone that can make the difference between mutual understanding or mutual frustration. Person-centered communication is clear, concise, and reflects the tone and values shared by the audience.

Another choice is being conscious of levels of abstraction in your content and words – determine a common level of understanding. As military members we use our own “jargon” especially when using acronyms and common phrases. Every professional has them. Effective communication requires an analysis of these words or comments that may make sense to our inside band of brothers and sisters but are not clear to those outside our professional circle. Your choice of words and phrases play a big part in others receiving your desired message.

Finally, use inclusive language – avoid generalizations that may describe, evaluate or insult groups of people. When I served in a multi-national task force in Kosovo I found myself constantly adjusting my words and communication to include all members of our unit, no matter what nation, affiliation, or status. One wrong word could definitely offend or turn off a member of my team. If a member of your audience feels insulted by an off-hand comment, they will ignore or miss key elements of your message. Be inclusive!

The overarching theme for effective communication is truly thoughtfulness and preparation as a leader. Balderdash occurs when you think you can just ‘wing it’ or communicate whatever pops into your head, and big surprises come from balderdash. However, good comms come from forward thinking and being mindful of appropriate words and phrases. As a leader the responsibility and choices are yours to ensure your message is on course and is received loud and clear.

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