Help  |  Pay an Invoice  |  My Account  |  CPE Log  |  Log in

Communication drives everything

Adapt your style to meet others where they are

Margaret Smith, Insights licensed practitioner | February/March 2022 Footnote

Editor's note: Updated January 27, 2022

If I were to ask you what percent of business issues are directly related to poor communication and not a lack of skills, what would your answer be? According to a Harvard Business Review article, nearly 20 years ago the answer was 87%. Imagine what it is today with the challenges of our pandemic-related work schedules and the many methods of communication that weren’t available 20 years ago.

Effective communication remains the single most important business strategy.

Reflect on this: How many times has a project broken down or a meeting been unproductive because of miscommunication or a lack of communication? Unfortunately, conversation, relationships and our work projects can easily become completely derailed. And, in the era of work from home or split schedules, effective communication is even trickier. It can be difficult to read body language during a virtual meeting and it’s no longer possible to “pop” into someone’s office to ask a quick question.

So, here are a few tweaks you can make to improve your communication and aid your success and the success of your firm.

Practice active listening

There is a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is physiological and can be passive; we can hear sounds or sentences without bothering to interpret them. Listening, however, is active. It involves hearing and interpreting what you hear. Practice active listening by paying attention, being fully present and absorbing what others say without formulating a response. Too often we’re so busy thinking about what we want to say, that we don’t truly pay attention to the speaker.

Ask good questions

There are three types of questions. Make it a practice to ask at least one, if not all three types of questions. 

The first type is a clarifying question, such as, “Can you give me a few more details or explain that one more time? I want to make sure we are all together on this or fully understand the material.” The second is a supportive question that demonstrates your appreciation for the work that was done to pull the material together. “This is great work. How do you see us applying this, or when and how do you think we should start?” And, finally, consider asking an inclusionary question such as, “Let’s get IT’s input on this. Jim, what are your thoughts?”

Asking questions demonstrates active listening and is a good leadership trait to adopt. You are remembered more for the questions you ask than the answers you give.

Keep meetings to a minimum

Employees are suffering from meeting burnout. What’s more, according to HBR, meetings have increased in length and frequency to the point that executives spend 23 hours a week in meetings, more than double from the 1960s. Focus on meeting quality, identify goals, ensure roles and responsibilities are clear and stick to the time limit. Collaboration and gathering everyone’s input is important but limit the time each person takes, assign a timer and stick to it.  Lastly, ask yourself if this meeting is necessary. What needs to be accomplished? Can it be achieved through a few quick emails? If so, consider a different plan.

Encourage video use

It’s tempting to shut off the video during a virtual meeting especially if you feel like it’s a bad hair day or your office is a mess. Even so, it’s a good idea to keep it on and encourage others to do so as well. Being visible helps the meeting to be more interactive and engaging. It also holds everyone accountable. What’s more, if you are the speaker, it is completely discouraging to talk to a wall of blank squares


You can’t change others, but you can adapt your style to meet others where they are. Recognize we are all different, listen differently, process information differently and react to everything in our lives differently. There is no right or wrong in this, it’s just a fact! Slow down, demonstrate how much you care about the person you are communicating with.

There are a lot of factors that make up clear and effective communication. By staying aware of other’s mannerisms and your impact, you can implement changes that will lead to more effective team dynamics and your success as a leader.

Margaret Smith is a career coach, author and Insights licensed practitioner. After 30-plus years in the corporate world, Margaret launched UXL where she works with companies of all sizes and industries to develop strong leaders, overcome barriers and accelerate success. Her book, “The Ten Minute Leadership Challenge,” has been used in several universities and organizations as a framework for leadership practices. You may reach her at