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  • Tamar Balkin

Are Communication Skills Essential For Effective Leadership?

“Ram-pa-ram, oh, yeah…”

“I saw the sign

And it opened up my eyes, I saw the sign

Life is demanding without understanding”

The Sign by Ace Of Base  (Click here for the song) 


“Their communication is unclear and unstructured.. they don’t set the scene, have an agenda, they just delve into the topic”

Briefing for a new client. 


What goes wrong? 

Regular readers know that as leaders are promoted their influence, discretion, accountability and responsibility increase. Stakeholder management, strategic focus and the need to ‘get work done through others’ are essential for success. All these aspects require excellent communication, in a context of high pressure, ambiguity and constant change.  


Barriers to good communication: 

Researchers have found strong links between stress and communication. Sadly, stress impacts the quality of communication and poor communication causes much stress, confusion and distress. Research into crisis management identified several barriers to effective communication: 

Technological barriers:Infrastructure failure can occur due to a lack of backup systems, while technology acceptance issues may arise within the organization, among employees, and between different organizations. Poor usability often results from ignoring the specific requirements of the user group, and incompatibility between different technological systems can further exacerbate the problem. Social media introduces challenges such as rumours and speculation, poor quality, lack of verification, and an overwhelming volume of information. Additionally, reliance on inappropriate modes of technological communication and the use of multiple methods can cause confusion and duplication. 

Organisational structures: Organisations with top-down, hierarchical command-and-control structures with highly bureaucratic structures and detailed rules, policies, procedures, instructions, standardisation, and routines, often lack the agility needed to respond effectively to unforeseen circumstances and can stifle innovation.   

Social barriers: Diversity of nationalities, ethnicities, cultures, political views, religions,  ideologies languages, etc can impede communication. 

Content barriers: The design of a message can hinder communication because the message may not be received exactly as the sender intended. The interpretation of the message by the receiver is often incomplete, results in conflicting interpretations, or is hindered due to missing information. Simple errors like spelling and grammar can change the meaning of a sentence, and paragraph.   

Information-related problems. Providing too much or too little information, inconsistent data from different sources; and incomplete or conflicting interpretations of data can have a detrimental impact on effective communication. 

Organisational barriers: Different  skills, professionalism, personalities, working methods, norms, terminology, and preferred means of communication create barriers to communication within and between organisations.



Effective communication requires technical and interpersonal skills. 

Technical skills: 


  • Define the purpose of the communication: problem-solving, decision-making, or substantive discussions, routine or non-urgent information, or a general check-in.

  • Set the scene: ensure that the participants understand the purpose, and the priorities, so that they can if appropriate, prepare in advance.

  • Invite the Right People: consider the meeting's goal and ensure you have the right people involved. 


  • Encourage Contribution, participation and creative problem-solving.

  • Address complaints politely and effectively ensuring that what can be controlled is addressed and what cannot is acknowledged.

  • Keep Discussions Focused, identifying and addressing any dysfunctional behaviours to maintain focus, if creative problem-solving is the goal, constraints are still appropriate.

  • Revisit the goal/purpose. Consider future actions and both immediate and long-term outcomes.

  • Define the follow-up process, ensuring appropriate accountability, and a clear plan.  



Reflect and Seek Feedback to improve the structure and content of future meetings.

Interpersonal skills:

Regular readers would know the importance of interpersonal skills in all communication: 

  • Active listening: One of the most important aspects of effective communication in the workplace is active listening. Those who actively listen to their colleagues demonstrate respect, build trust and encourage open dialogue.

  • Emotional intelligence: Encourage empathy and understanding, developing emotional intelligence promotes empathy, improves cooperation and helps individuals better manage conflict

  • Non-verbal communication: Non-verbal cues, including facial expressions, body language, gestures, and tone of voice, often convey more meaning than words alone. Understanding and using these cues can greatly enhance workplace communication.


Why bother? 

“Workplace communication statistics show that 86% of employees and executives cite the lack of effective collaboration and communication as the main causes of workplace failures.”




Strong communication between management and employees fosters empowerment and confidence through transparency and honesty, encouraging idea-sharing and addressing concerns. Employees are often more perceptive than some superiors realise, and inclusive communication prevents alienation. Promoting healthy communication among colleagues, especially in diverse, cross-cultural teams, is crucial for effective collaboration. One negative action can trigger a cycle of negativity, affecting productivity.

Most employees, at every level, are more tuned in than some superiors give them credit for. Just as a customer who isn’t listened to may be lost, a colleague who isn’t heard or included in relevant issues can be alienated. Positive outcomes stem from being inclusive, knowing what needs to be shared, when and which methods of communication best convey it. 

The meaning of even the most banal utterance is grounded in a set of fixed assumptions about what the communicator knows, believes, feels and thinks.

Every individual views the world from different vantage points, like background, experience, knowledge, education and gender, creating a unique perspective.

Researchers found that simple gestures like saying "thank you" enhance employee engagement and satisfaction. Organisations with a culture of compassion see higher job fulfilment, commitment, and accountability.  



So why the train sign? 

“I have lived in Sydney for thirty years – on and off – and even as a local I still find Sydney’s train system to be the most confusing in the world. There are so many factors that make the Sydney rail system unnecessarily confusing. The most frustrating thing is that this is all so easily fixable. It’s a communication problem, not a logistics problem.”

Alex Carlton  

Since World War II, psychologists have been working on human factors, using their knowledge of human behaviour, perception, attention, and cognition to create user-friendly products and work environments. These experts identify and resolve sources of confusion or frustration, benefiting customers and businesses. Despite the growing recognition of human factors in technology design across various work settings, including transportation, it never ceases to amaze me when I see futile signage. 



What about my client?   

“effective persuasion, argumentation, negotiation, and conflict management skills may share a numberof commonalities, and the skills associated with providing emotional support to friends and family members may be similar to those required by individuals working in health communication and other social service contexts”



At the commencement of the coaching program, it was evident that the client had some troublesome communication skills. The coaching program's process and content enabled the client to identify their bad habits, explore the root causes, and work on mitigating them. While I am beginning to observe changes, I am eager to hear feedback from the client's boss.  



Final Thoughts.

Regular readers would know that leadership capability requires self-awareness and well-being. As my clients grow in these areas their communication and overall leadership capability improves dramatically. 

Please click here if you would like to read my past blogs.  



Soorya. (2023, November 18). Workplace Communication Psychology: Better Team Collaboration Tips. Westford Online. 

Workplace communication skills. (n.d.). Psychology. 

Science Marketing Team. (n.d.). I/O psychology and human factors | Research | UWA. UWA. Workplace Communication Statistics in 2024. (2024, April 22). Pumble Learn. 

Fischer-Preßler, Diana & Posegga, Oliver & Fischbach, Kai. (2016). Communication Barriers in Crisis Management: A Literature Review. 

Giesberg, J. (2001). The role of communication in preventing workplace sabotage. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 31(12), 2439–2461. 

Parker, S. K., Axtell, C. M., & Turner, N. (2001). Designing a safer workplace: Importance of job autonomy, communication quality, and supportive supervisors. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 6(3), 211–228. 

Berger, C.R. (2005). Interpersonal Communication: Theoretical Perspectives, Future Prospects. Journal of Communication, 55(3), pp.415–447.

Association for Psychological Science - APS. (n.d.). Psychological Science Can Make Your Meetings Better. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 May 2024].‌



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