Once you have started creating a foundation based on a “universal language”, the next step in the development of your effective communication is moving beyond the surface of that language. As that “universal language” begins to empower each member of your program with a voice rooted in a collective definition, it is necessary to consider how you will model the communication desired for your program. You will need to move beyond the surface by reading between the lines and considering the non-verbal components of effective communication.
Your depth of communication will vary based on timing. Content can be valuable but has to be presented in the right setting and at the right time for the listener to be able to receive and process it positively. Throughout a season, you will be navigating communication opportunities during training, pre-competition discussions, competitions, and post-competition debriefings, both publically and privately. No matter what the setting is, your approach should be the same: to work toward being proactive rather than reactive. This requires slowing down before communicating to best adjust your response to fit the situation. Your true control of any situation lies in your choice of reaction to challenge. A common challenge is when someone in your program does not live up to your performance expectations. As a coach, for example, in the heat of play, it can be tempting to provide a detailed “teaching moment“ immediately following an error in judgment. However, this can yield opposite of the result you desire by overloading the athlete with information that could detract from focus on the next play. Short, instructional feedback incorporating your “universal language” can address the issue without overwhelming the athlete. Later, you can follow up with that athlete in a relaxed setting, such as in an individual meeting or while reviewing game film when the athlete can be more receptive to instructional feedback.
By slowing down, you provide yourself the space necessary to better reflect on the situation and gain vital insight. Before reacting, identify your true communication goal. Is it to point out the error someone made or to take advantage of a “teaching moment”? Is it to express your disappointment in the listener’s performance or to instill confidence in future decision-making? Your true objective should be to help that listener “fail forward”, meaning teaching him or her how to better cope and adjust to similar challenges moving forward.
In addition to proper timing, the tone of your message is critical. Anyone who has participated in sports, at any level, has observed a coach who “barks” orders and critiques. You may have noticed that the coach ran the risk of that “bark” losing its “bite.” What generally occurs is the athletes become desensitized to the tone and delivery, ultimately, tuning out the message. Choosing how much emotion to show will give your message more “bite”, and will help you better inform, inspire and create accountability in others.
The third component to consider is building awareness of your body language. You can unknowingly impart messages through your body language. Although you may be standing silently in your disappointment following a challenging moment, if you have your arms crossed and your head down you may be revealing your negative emotions just as “loudly” as you could with words. Even more obviously, reactions such as walking away shaking your head and throwing objects to the ground, like a clipboard, can communicate unwanted, yet, impactful messages. Becoming aware of this unintentional reactive communication will help you express yourself more mindfully, while also modeling the effective communication skills that you desire for your program’s culture.
It will take time to build awareness around these three components and how they can be incorporated into your professional development. The first step is to accept that perfection is not the end goal. At first, you are simply strengthening your awareness of any deeply-ingrained patterns in your communication. You can move toward being less reactive and more proactive by previewing challenging situations that lie outside your current comfort zone. Journaling specific moments can be a great tool. You can prepare, review, and refine your performance as a communicator allowing you to better prepare yourself for the next challenging situation.