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3 Inclusive Communication Habits Every Leader Should Adopt

By Maxwell Leadership | June 21, 2022
3 Inclusive Communication Habits Every Leader Should Adopt

What makes you feel valued and included in your work life? Is it your company’s policies and values? The people you work with and for? Chances are, it’s all the above. But it mostly comes down to our leaders. What leaders say and do make up to 70% of whether someone feels included at work. This is important because the level of inclusion in our lives determines some foundational aspects of how well we work: our well-being, our motivation, our collaboration, and how comfortable we feel contributing our unique skills and talents.

But we also know that what people say and what people do are two different things. We often hear leaders say they are committed to creating an inclusive workplace and even see that commitment reflected in company mission and values statements. But if those statements aren’t reflected in how leaders communicate, they are missing a core element of what it means to lead well. And at Maxwell Leadership, we believe that everyone deserves to be led well.

Are you practicing inclusive leadership with an inclusive communication style?

In a 2020 analysis outlined in this Harvard Business Review article, researchers looked at how leaders who claimed to be inclusive talk. Their findings showed that, despite these leaders stated commitment to inclusion, very few of them had actually developed an inclusive communication style. This study prompted a summary of key practices and habits of inclusive communicators. Here’s a look at three of those behaviors and how you can actively support an environment of inclusion through your communication and within your organization.


Great communicators will tell you that the first and most important element in effective communication is your audience—knowing who they are and what they want and need. Audience-centered language puts the audience first and adapts the message to their values, identities, needs, and interests.

To do this, you’ll need to take the time to understand not only your audience, but also how your identity and experience influences your communication. The opinions and perspectives of your audience may very well differ from your own, and that’s a valuable thing to know and use.

This Maxwell Leadership blog post looks at five questions to ask yourself to help you understand and connect with your audience better. It’s also important to ensure that your word-choice is inclusive. Here are a few common best inclusive language practices and what to avoid.

  • Use “we,” “us,” “team” and other collective words like “together” that unify, instead of divide or claim credit for yourself (like “I”).
  • Avoid gendered language—language that involves assumptions about gender-based characteristics or bias towards one gender (e.g., ‘listen, guys,’ manpower, chairwoman, etc.)
  • Avoid excluding groups of your audience through jargon, idioms, abbreviations, and phrases that may not resonate with specific audiences or that can make people feel left out. (e.g., ‘Some of you may be too young to remember…’)

By adjusting your word choice to your audience, you’ll not only avoid being tone-deaf, but you’ll also avoid alienating the people you need to inspire.


Authenticity in terms of communication is defined by the audience’s perception of you as a leader. Do you appear genuine and natural? Do your words match your intention? Is your behavior consistent?  When we talk about inclusive communication, authenticity refers to a leader’s ability to engage with audiences—not speak at them. Inauthentic communication often looks like a leader adopting different behavior, like being conversational and funny with close colleagues, then formal and closed-off with a larger audience.

Avoiding inauthenticity in your communication comes down to three actions:

  1. Know your material. People can tell if you’re reading from a script or not familiar with what you’re talking about.
  2. Show emotion. Make sure your nonverbals and tone reflect how you feel and the circumstance.
  3. Be natural. An over-choreographed or over-memorized message will signal that you either don’t know or believe in your message.


This behavior ties into authenticity but is key in fostering an environment of trust and inclusivity. By establishing yourself as an expert to your audience, you’re communicating that you have the ability to engage with various perspectives and address complex topics. You’re demonstrating a willingness to explore differing opinions and take the time to listen to and learn from others. And if people recognize that characteristic in you, they are more likely to feel validated and heard. Experts do four things in their communication:

  1. They give context (what and why – not just what).
  2. They tell stories.
  3. They cite other experts and lean into data.
  4. They prioritize clarity.

At the end of the day, it’s all well and good to claim to be inclusive, but if your leadership actions don’t support those values, then true change and progress stalls. By adopting an inclusive communication style as a leader, you’ll not only show that you’re doing more than talking about inclusion – you’re living it.

Is improving your communication one of your personal growth and leadership development goals?

We have you covered. With C.L.E.A.R. by Maxwell Leadership®, you can join a community of people just like you who are focused on their personal growth and be mentored by our C.L.E.A.R. Guide to Communication Roddy Galbraith. Learn more and subscribe—or download our app to take your personal growth resources with you wherever you go!

Looking for more ways to transform your organization?

At Maxwell Leadership, we believe leadership shouldn’t be a solo mission. Great leaders work among their people, not above their people. Our leadership experts can help you build a team of strong leaders around you, creating better performance for the whole organization. Learn more about our solutions, including executive coaching and leadership development programs and assessments tailored to your organization’s needs.

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