Leadership: Leaders Demonstrate Good Communication Skills

Leadership Blog


Statistics on worldwide texting show that the number of monthly texts sent increased more than 7,700% over the last decade.1


In 2014, Americans sent over 8.5 billion texts per day.2


The average person sends 72 messages per day.3


The average American is subjected to approximately six thousand messages per day.4


We communicate a lot! I am not sure, though, how WELL we communicate.


Leaders that are effective communicate well. Good communication patterns help create an environment where mission can thrive.


This blog looks at good communication patterns for leaders.


Communication and the Purpose of Words

Words have a purpose, so it is good for us to know what we are trying to accomplish with our words.


Words can be used to share information, to share an idea or engage in a conversation about an idea, to express an emotion, to convince someone of a new idea, to banter, to make ourselves vulnerable, to defend ourselves, to control situations and others, and to set ourselves or others free.


I want to propose that the purpose of words for leaders is twofold. The purpose of words is to both build relationships and for us to grow and develop as individuals.


Words build relationships as we greet one another, as we engage in the necessary act of small talk in getting to know a stranger, as we tell stories, as we share ideas, as we learn about another person, as we share values, as we define another word, as we ask someone to do something, as we are asked to do something for another person, as we clarify how something is to be done, and as we provide information to others who may need that information to complete a project. 


Words help us grow and develop as individuals. As I use words to build relationships with people, I find myself engaged with people who are different than I am, who propose ideas for my consideration, and who may either agree or disagree with me. That encounter with another person can affirm parts of who I am, and the encounter can challenge parts of who I am. Either way, it shapes who I am as a person.


Words also reduce the perception that another person is a threat. In a time when encountering a person who is different from us is seen as threatening, the way we use words either builds a relationship with the other person or creates a distance from the other person. These encounters with others shape who we are.


Communication through Presence

We can send a message to a person before we even speak, so attend to those messages.


Someone once said, 75% of the job is to show up and return phone calls. We could probably add reply to email and texts in addition to phone calls. Our responsibilities as leaders are far more intricate than showing up and returning messages, but it gets at an idea. The way we engage another person, even before we speak, says something to the other person.


What are some of the factors that relate to this?

  • Timeliness: Do we meet with the person on time? Whether we intend it or not, being late sends the message to the other person that their time is not important to us.
  • Posture: Do we stand or sit when with the other person? If we sit when the other is sitting, we send the message that we are ready to engage that person. If we remain standing when another is sitting, we can send the message that we are not committing much time to the conversation. Sitting and making the other stand asserts a position of power.
  • Appearance: What do we wear and how do we look? I send a very different message if I show up in gym shorts and a t-shirt instead of a suit and tie. In addition, being unkempt in our personal hygiene sends the message that the other person or the occasion is less important.
  • Attentiveness: Do we show we are interested in what the person is saying? Attentiveness includes eye contact, leaning forward, small sounds like “mmhmm” that encourage the other person to continue speaking.


Communication Is Primarily Non-Verbal

What you say when you are not speaking says a lot.


The amount of communication that is non-verbal is between 60 and 90%,5 according to Blake Eastman. He goes on to conclude, “The important part is that most communication is nonverbal. In fact, nonverbal behavior is the most crucial aspect of communication.”6


If that is the case, the way that we communicate nonverbally is paramount to good relationships.


I wrote about many types of non-verbal communication in the section on Communication through Presence.


Perhaps, then, it is important for us to pay just as much attention to our non-verbal communication as we do in picking our words.


Here is an example. I am 6’5” tall. I learned early in ministry to sit down when I visit someone in the hospital. I have found that standing there, looming over them, creates a discomfort that gets in the way of a helpful, pastoral conversation.


Communication and Micro-Messages/Micro-Affirmations

Micro-Messages and Micro-Affirmations have a large impact on our communication.


There are Micro-Messages, and there are Micro-Affirmations. 


Micro-Messages “are the brief and everyday slights, insults, indignities and denigrations directed at…[others] from well-intentioned people who are unaware of the hidden messages being communicated.”7 There are three types of micro-messages: Micro-Assaults which are overt and intentional; Micro-Invalidations which are subtle, rude, and demeaning actions; and Micro-Insults which are “Verbal, nonverbal, and environmental communications that convey rudeness and insensitivity and demean a person.”8


There are also Micro-Affirmations. These are the behaviors we use to show approval or favor to another person. They include “nods, facial expressions, choices of words, and tones of voice that convey inclusion, caring, and listening.”9


Micro-Affirmations are good, but I urge you to be cautious of the impact of unconscious use of micro-affirmations. I can give one person more attention than another and convey the message that I prefer them by using micro-affirmations. This can be as easy as paying full attention to what one person is saying at a meeting. At the same time, I may not show the same micro-affirmations to another person and not even realize that I am withholding that encouragement. By not showing signs of paying full attention to a person at a meeting, I can send the message that I do not care for that person. 


Communication and Vocabulary

Having a dictionary and thesaurus level vocabulary at one’s disposal strengthens communication.


There are various types of vocabulary:

  • Technical Vocabulary: A technical vocabulary is knowing words specific to one’s professional field or recreational interests. 
  • Vocabulary of Affirmation: A vocabulary of affirmation is knowing words to recognize, affirm, and encourage another person.
  • Vocabulary of Challenge: A vocabulary of challenge is knowing words that speak truth to another person in love—that is, in a way that honors that person’s integrity and wants what is best for that person.
  • Conversation Appropriate Vocabulary: Conversation appropriate vocabulary is using a set of words with people who will understand and appreciate those words. Using doctoral level vocabulary with people who have a more casual way of communicating will not foster good communication.


Communication and Message

What we say and what is heard may not be the same. 


Every gym has a busybody. Years ago, I belonged to a gym that had one. Most of us tried to avoid her when she attempted to start conversations. One day, I was not able to avoid her. Immediately, she started talking about other people at the gym. In particular, she pointed to a young man and wondered out loud, “I wonder if he is still wearing the bag.” I was appalled and told her so. You see, with part of my work being to visit people in the hospital, I had a particular understanding of what “wearing the bag” meant. For me, wearing the bag meant the person had a colostomy. I was appalled that the gym busybody would tell others about this young man and his health concern.  When I confronted her, she looked shocked and walked away.


A bit later, when I am in the locker room, the young man walks in. He takes off his sweatshirt. Underneath the sweatshirt, he is wearing a garbage bag. I could feel my face turn red. He was wearing a bag, not because of a colostomy, but to make him sweat more to lose body fat. I searched out the gym busybody and apologized.


What she said and what I heard her say were not the same thing—even though I heard the exact words she used. This is why, in communication, it is important to know that the intention of what we say and the impact may not be the same. Sometimes, what we think is being said is not what is heard—even if the person has heard the same words.


Communication and Listening

While we think we have communicated when we have spoken, communication also requires that we listen.


Cliché’s work because there is truth behind them. The adage is, “You have 2 ears and 1 mouth, listen twice as much as you speak.”


Listening is not only letting the sound waves hit your eardrums. Listening is processing what the other person is saying. Processing what a person is saying requires what has been called Active Listening. Active Listening includes the head nods, leaning forward, and encouraging sounds that we mentioned earlier. It also means repeating back in our own words what we have heard the other person say; allowing ourselves to be corrected if we have summarized things wrongly; and asking questions when we don’t understand what is being said. Finally, active listening means a willingness to continue to think about what the other person said after the conversation has concluded.


Communication and the 2nd Half of Sentences

We may think there is a period at the end of what we say, but many times there is a second half of the sentence that goes unspoken.


In her book, It’s OK That You’re NOT OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture that Doesn’t Understand IT, Megan Devine writes about “The Second Half of the Sentence.”10 There can be an implied second half of a sentence. She gives examples from working with people with grief. Consider a person suffering from grief who hears another say, “At least you had them for as long as you did,” or “They’re in a better place now.” Devine asks her readers to add the following phrase to these sentences intended to offer comfort. The phrase is “so stop feeling so bad.” So, while we say, “At least you had them for as long as you did,” we are really saying, “At least you had them for as long as you did, so stop feeling so bad.” Or, we say “They’re in a better place now,” but really mean, “They’re in a better place now, so stop feeling so bad.” As a result, Devine writes, “Words of comfort that try to erase pain are not a comfort. When you try to take someone’s pain away from them, you don’t make it better.”11


As leaders, it is important for us to attend to the 2nd half of some of our sentences. Below are some examples. The words in the parentheses are the second half of the sentence that is unstated but still heard.

  • I am amazed that you did that by yourself (because I didn’t think you could).
  • I’ll try to make room for you in my schedule (but there are other people that I’d rather spend time with).
  • Do the best that you can (for I don’t expect much from you).
  • Feel free to take some time off ( you’re not that important to the team anyway).



My mentor made the following claim, “I can tell how a pastor leads by how the person preaches.” I think the claim could be broadened to say, “I can tell how a person leads by how the person speaks.”


Leaders know :

  • the importance of words; 
  • the power of the way words are put together; 
  • the nuances of meaning that come with how a word is stated;
  • the secondary message that comes from appropriate non-verbal communication;
  • the beauty of having an ever-expanding vocabulary and when and how to use it; 
  • the trap of assuming that what they said is perfectly clear;
  • the importance for clarity;
  • the power of words to shape who they are as individuals;
  • and, the power of words to build up or to destroy one’s relationship with others.



1 www.statisticbrain.com/text-message-statistics/
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Lischer, Richard. The End of Words: The Language of Reconciliation in a Culture of Violence. (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, Michigan), page 13.
5 Eastman, Blake. “How Much of Communication is Really Nonverbal? An Extensive Breakdown. www.nonverbalgroup.com.
6 Ibid.
7 Greatplacetowork.com. Kalia Simms, Match 27, 2023.
8 Ibid.
Sadighi, Diana. “Micro-Affirmations: How Small Actions Can Yield Big Results.” Employerscouncil.org.
 Devine, Megan. It’s Ok that You’re No Ok: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture that Doesn’t Understand. (Sounds True: Boulder, Colorado), page 21.
11 Ibid.