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Executive Leadership Podcast #189: Communicating with Clarity: A Leadership Game Changer

May 26, 2022
Executive Leadership Podcast #189: Communicating with Clarity: A Leadership Game Changer

Communicating with clarity is a leadership skill that is often overlooked. When you can develop this skill, you will increase the effectiveness of your team and improve results. Today, we discuss five ways you can improve your communication clarity.

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Perry Holley: Welcome to the Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. I’m Perry Holley, Maxwell Leadership Facilitator and Coach. 

Chris Goede: And I’m Chris Goede, Executive Vice President with Maxwell Leadership. Welcome, and thank you for joining. I’m sitting here smiling. I’m in the studio by myself today and Perry- 

Perry Holley: But you look good, you look real good though. 

Chris Goede: Yeah. Thank you. Perry is in Providence, Rhode Island, for us. We had some change in schedules over the weekend and he is pinch hitting for us. And so we are excited to at least be bringing you this podcast, even though it’s back to the Zoom days, if you’re watching us on video or even listening to us. And it sounds a little bit different. It’s okay, we’re making this work. So as a reminder, as we go through this content, Perry has written a learner’s guide for you. And so if you’re interested in downloading that, if you want to fill out a form, you have a question for us, or you want to engage our organization in helping your organization. Don’t hesitate to visit And there I’m going to ask that you actually click on the lesson for today and inside there you’ll be able to fill out that form. 

Well, today’s topic is titled Communicating with Clarity – A Leadership Game Changer. And Perry, I felt like when I went through this, there’s a little bit of pressure on you and I, because we got to communicate this clearly to our listeners today. Tell us a little bit about what you’re thinking about in this lesson. 

Perry Holley: Well, if you’ve been a leader for very long, you know that what comes out of your mouth you intend one way, not everybody perceives it that same way. We talk about that a lot, the intention perception gap. But I saw this, I’ll often teach on this subject. And I was telling a story that I had seen, and someone said, I have a better story. I said, I doubt that, but go ahead, I’m game. 

And she told me that she wanted to get her husband a cake for his birthday, and she really wanted the Chicago Black Hawk hockey logo on the cake. And so she asked the baker could he do that? And he said, “Of course, do you have a picture of the logo?” And she says, “Like you don’t know the Black Hawk logo?” He goes, “Well, I know it, but I need to look at it while I’m doing it.” 

She goes, oh. And so she fiddled in her purse a minute and she pulled out a tube of Chapstick and it was a Black Hawks, branded with the Black Hawk logo on the label. She goes, “Will this work?” He goes, “That’s perfect,” so he threw it in the box. And she came back the next day. And she said she had opened the box and had the most beautiful Chicago Black Hawks logo right in the middle of the cake and right above it said Chapstick, and right below it, it said lip balm. 

And she said, “I thought I was so clear that I just wanted that logo, but he did the whole chapstick logo right on there.” So yeah, I think we often think we’re more clear than we really are. 

Chris Goede: Yeah. And I think clarity in communication is overlooked, right? You and I, and everybody that’s listening to us, we have it in our heads, so we’ve rehearsed it or we understand the context behind it, so it’s clear to us, right? We think it’s clear, but just because it’s clear to us doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to be able to communicate it clearly or that it’s going to be received well. 

Perry Holley: Oh yeah. And I did it last week in a class. I was out west and we were talking about this communication. And I just told them, I said, “I don’t know if people know this about me, but I’m a world class tapper.” And they looked perplexed, and I go, “No really, watch this. I’m going to tap this song and you tell me what the song is.” And I go [inaudible 00:03:55], and they all look at me like what is this weirdo doing? 

And I said, “What song is it?” And they have no clue. And I was like, “Really? You couldn’t hear the national anthem? I’m playing the national anthem.” And so what you really understand quickly with that little silly example is that for us, when we’re communicating, I’m singing the song in my head and you’re looking at me like I’m out of my head, because you’re not hearing the song as I’m singing the national anthem in my head as I’m tapping. That’s really, to me, I thought it was a great example of sometimes why we can’t be more clear is that we think people hear what we hear, but it’s really not there. 

Chris Goede: Well, I have to be honest, I had no idea what you were playing. And secondly, I went to, is he playing this for clients or? And then what’s the client’s review going to be when it comes back of Perry tapping? So that’s an awesome, awesome example. 

Now, before we jump into the five areas, which by the way, I love the fact that we’re talking about five [inaudible 00:05:08], the five areas of where clarity comes into being a leadership game changer. We often talk about the fact that there is a skill behind this. There a skill to communicating clearly. Talk to me a little bit about that. 

Perry Holley: Well, it absolutely is a skill. And, really, the first step when it comes to communicating, you can’t communicate clearly if you haven’t thought it through completely. 

And I remember, as the preacher and teacher Howard Hendricks used to say, if it’s mist in the pulpit, it’ll be a fog in the pew. And that always, I kind of smile at that, but I also enjoy that, that the burden of clarity is really on you, is on me. If I’m not clear, first of all, I haven’t thought that through. Then, if it’s a mist in my head, it’s going to be a fog when I’m talking to my team. And I just think so many times we think, again, you can hear the song I’m playing, and you can’t. So I it’s up to me to be able to be really, have a clear understanding about what it is I want to communicate before I even start with you. 

Chris Goede: Yeah. I love that. Well, the second step here is, you need to consider what does your audience need to hear from your communication? I always remember, John made a comment one time where he said, “I am thinking about what they need to hear from me, not what I want to tell them, right before I go on stage to communicate.” And so the second point here is thinking about what is it, are you considering what is it that they need to hear from your communication? 

So whether it’s what do they already know, if you have that, what’s the level of understanding about a certain topic that they may have, you got to close that gap. Or what can I do to help them see a little bit clearer in this area, and how do I communicate that? So having the mindset to be able to say to myself, what is it that I need to consider about the audience before I communicate? That’d be the second thing. 

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Perry Holley: Yeah. I love that. I learned that from John. Every time before I go on and speak, and I’ll be speaking here tomorrow, I walk the room and I actually think through who are these people, why are they here? What do they need? What nugget can I give them that would be really valuable, add value to their life? Thinking that, of all the things I could possibly say, I’d really like to make it clear and concise into what it is they need to hear, so great point on that. 

The third thing I think you should consider after you’re making sure you’re really clear, you consider the audience, what do they need to hear, what is the best medium for the communication? And meaning, is it, do you have the luxury of one on one in-person verbal communication? Or is it at the other end of that spectrum, which is one to many, through a written communication. 

We teach, oftentimes, the cone of clarity. And I went ahead and put this graphic in the learner guides, so if anyone downloads, they could see that graphic. But the idea was, if you think on the very far, I’ll say, very far left side, written and one, made to the entire organization, it has a lot of vague, could be very unclear. Lots of room for lack of clarity on that. 

But as I, maybe I use audio and video from one to many, I get a little more clear. Because now I can start to use, you can see me, you can see body language, you can sense tone, and those types of things. Face to face starts to get more clear. Written one to one, if I’m writing you something even more clear. Audio and video between me and you, one on one clear, but then that face to face one on one. So I think it’s worth thinking about how are you going to be communicating? What form are you using with what audience? And it’ll help you to fine tune that, because you lose a lot of that on the written. And to many, you lose a lot of the non-verbals of communication that are going to add to the, making it confusing. 

Chris Goede: Yeah. Let me back up. I love that you brought in this cone of clarity. We talk about culture shaping communication as one of our training courses and this image. And Perry did a really good job of explaining the cone and what this looks like, and when you should communicate and how you should communicate. But I want to encourage you, if you missed any of that, to download the notes. Because he has an image in there, it’s a great tool for you as you begin to understand how can I become more effective at communicating clearly. 

Well, the fourth one that we want to kind of bring to you to consider is what we call, and Perry mentioned it just a few minutes ago, the intent versus perception gap. You’ll hear us talk about the IP gap periodically. And so this is where what you may have intended for them to receive, when they actually receive it, their perception of that is not what your intention was. Which goes back to what we were talking about early on Perry, which is, we said, hey, we have it one way in our head. We have it clear in our head, or one way that we want to communicate it, or that we feel like they’re going to receive it. And that is absolutely not what ends up happening. 

And so, as a leader, it’s our responsibility to close that gap. When we teach this principal to leaders as they’re communicating to their team, we don’t say, hey, there is a IP gap, there’s an intent versus perception gap. And oh, by the way, it’s your team members, or those that you’re communicating, it’s their responsibility to close the gap. No, it is your responsibility to close that gap. It’s your responsibility to carry the burden of making sure you have clarity when you’re communicating. 

Perry Holley: Yeah, absolutely. I heard, I always ask audiences, and would you agree with me that there’s this IP gap, this intention perception gap exists? 100%, yes. 

Chris Goede: Absolutely. 

Perry Holley: I think it happens 100% of the time, to some degree. You’ve got to be aware that it’s possible. But then I ask, what would you do to close it? How do you close it? If you knew it, intentionally, how do you do that? And I always think about Brian Tracy, the great author and communicator himself, that commented that we need to accept the responsibility for understanding, and for being understood. 

Chris Goede: That’s good. 

Perry Holley: I need to, I thought, he kind of blew my mind. Well, how? I need to make sure I’m understanding you, but I also need to make sure I’m understood by you. And it sounds a little crazy, but if I ever hope to communicate with clarity, I need to not only be understanding of what you’re saying, but making sure that I’m understood by others. And that to me, I’m thinking, how would you even do that? It just, it’s huge. 

Chris Goede: Yeah. Well, I think it’s a good question. Two things come to mind when you ask me that question. Number one, I often will ask team members after we have a conversation or I’m communicating, which was in your own words, not my words in your own words, what did you hear? What does that mean to you? What were your takeaways from that, so that I can get their understanding of what I communicated. 

And then, I’ve learned this from one of my team members, and we use this in a couple of different facets. Which is we say, hey, on a scale of one to ten, in this case, how clear was that? Do you understand the communication? And if they say, well, I’m at a four, well, then we got some work to do before we leave that meeting. before we leave that room. 

Perry Holley: That’s good. 

Chris Goede: But if they say, hey, it’s an eight, nine or ten then you go, okay, good. And so those are kind of the two things when you say, hey, how do you go about doing that? Those are kind of the two things that I use. 

Perry Holley: I like that. 

Chris Goede: I think the fifth way to build the skill of clarity is to consider the perspective of the people that you are communicating with. So this requires you to know your audience. You and I were just having a conversation, right before we started recording this podcast, and you’re going to be speaking tomorrow, the last minute change for us. And you said, “Hey, tell me about the room. What do I need to know about them?” And so that’s a great question that I think we need to be aware of. 

So, for example, there’s this exercise. I know that I’ve seen you do it and some of our other facilitators have done it in the classroom where you ask the audience to answer a couple of questions. So here’s two of them that we use. Number one is, a customer is interested in making changes to their expensive home. And then the question is, well, how expensive is their home, right? 

The second one is, one of the managers stated that the new product would ship in a few days. That’s the statement. But for clarity, the question is, well, how many days will it take to ship? And even going back to your cake example that you started off with, like the clarity and the question behind the question to gain clarity is so important when you’re communicating. 

Perry Holley: Yeah. Well, you think about what’s an expensive house to you and what’s an expensive houses to someone else, it’s kind of relative. 

Chris Goede: It’s different. 

Perry Holley: In that, so you’re using, you need to be precise with your words. Or, what’s a few days to you? Is that two or that’s a couple days. And what’s a few days, it’s more than two, but less than what? So it leaves all kind of open doors for confusion on that. And I really, my personal belief, if you hope to communicate with clarity you really need to consider the words you use and the perspective, where are people coming from. 

And if you’re not clear on that, it really leaves understanding up to their interpretation. So that intention perception becomes an interpretation that they think, well, I guess he means expensive. He means in this range, or a few days must mean that. No, I need to be more precise with that. 

Chris Goede: And you need to understand, to your point, what their perception of expensive is in this particular situation. Perry, here’s a question for you. Talk about, when you think about this, and clarity and communication, this has enormous payback for leaders if you go about doing it correctly. What are your thoughts on that? 

Perry Holley: Well, anything, there’s areas where you need to be really clear, and I could list, maybe five? No, I could list a number of areas where it really pays for you to be clear. We talk a lot about culture on this podcast and in a lot of the work we do. And so you think you got to be very clear on your core values. You need to be very clear on how those core values are defined, don’t leave that open for interpretation. The organization defines that. What are the desired outcomes, what are the results we’re trying to achieve? I need to be very clear on what we’re aiming for. What are our standards of operation? I need to be very clear on those types of things. Individual expectations I have of people on my team, I need to be very clear with things like that. 

When you put that together, you think that really is your whole business. It is every relationship, it is everything that is really important to you in accomplishing what your organization’s trying to accomplish. The more clarity I can have in those communications, the more engaged people are going to be, the more bought in people are going to be, to me and to the mission. It just opens the door for participation, for getting people thinking like owners, not like hired hands. It just, I think it engages people at a higher level when they are very clear on what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and where we’re going. 

Chris Goede: Love that. So, as I wrap up, here’s what I’m thinking. Two thoughts, as we wrap up. 

Perry and I have talked quite a bit about common language leads to beliefs that drives behaviors. And as people in general, and as leaders, we’re looking for behavioral change. And if you back up to that very first point when we talk about common language. So if we don’t have clarity around communicating that common language, or clarity around that common language, the beliefs and the behaviors are going to be off. Based off what you’re looking for as a leader for your team, for your family, for your community, whatever it might be. So just remember common language is so important, and we’ve got to be clear around that common language. 

The other thing is, is that you have to remember that people speak what we call the how and the why language, right? And this goes back to overlaying the principles that we talked about, of understanding your audience, knowing where they’re coming from, knowing kind of what they need to hear. Sometimes, in different groups, you’re going to have to communicate in a how language so that it’s very clear to them and they get it. 

And sometimes you’re going to have to communicate the why language first so that they can get it. So this is not easy, but I love the fact that this is a game changer, as we talked about in the title. If you can figure out how to do this as a leader, it’ll be a game changer for you. 

My last thought, before I throw it back to you, Perry, if this is something you go, man, I absolutely need to work on this, or this is an issue for my team or my organization. We have that culture shaping communication, where we talk about this and we talk about the different parts of our culture and how we communicate. We talk about the cone that Barry shared earlier, and it’s been very, very well received. Don’t hesitate to let us know if we can help you in that area. 

Perry Holley: Fantastic. Well, thank you, Chris. Good work. And just a reminder, if you want to learn more about our offerings in that area or other offerings we have, as well as leave a comment or a question for us, you can do all that at We always love hearing from you. We’re always grateful you would spend this time with us each week. That’s all today from the Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast. 

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