How to Build a Culture of Communication

The key to motivating people and building a strong culture of communication is trust.

Many managers and executives may be skilled operationally but are unable to fully realize their potential to lead. One of the primary reasons is that communication is often overlooked as a critical tool to motivate an audience.

There are three common mistakes leaders can overcome to better motivate their audiences:

Failing to use the W5H: Who, what, when, where, why and how. When you assess how, when, where, what and why, you’re communicating, and it will be easier to understand where a miscommunication lies or what’s not working.
Teaching what they know instead of seeking what they don’t: Leaders who simply rehash their own favorite sound bites rarely inspire people. Approaching every gathering as an occasion to teach and preach means missed opportunities to learn and foster two-way communication. Spend as much time inviting information as you do imparting it.
Not knowing how to listen: Being a learning leader is about asking good questions and listening to the answers. There’s a big difference between hearing and active listening, which requires the listener to actively participate in understanding what they’re hearing.
Don’t just wait to speak again. Take the time to ensure you have an understanding of what has been said by paying attention to body language and tone and by repeating what a speaker says.
The learning leader’s role is to set the stage for successful communication in three areas: building trust, assessing the culture and establishing a roadmap for action.

Build trust: Trust is the building block of good communication. Well-executed communication builds trust, whereas poor communication leads to mistrust. Communication must be timely, consistent and truthful. It must establish goals and objectives and provide the reasoning for decisions or actions. Important information must be shared quickly in a language the audience can understand.

Timing is crucial. When leaders fail to communicate in a timely fashion, people fill in the gaps with assumptions, distorting the intended message. Failure to set reasonable expectations can eventually cause people to lose faith in the organization.

Learning leaders can build trust and impact communication in a number of ways.

An easy first step is to incorporate the previously mentioned W5H. Always be aware of why you’re communicating, who you’re communicating with and when you’re choosing to communicate.
Seeking to understand before you are understood is much more important than trying to be the smartest person in the room. Learn the “appreciative inquiry” technique to answer powerful questions.
Rather than playing favorites, aim to be a facilitator. A facilitator remains neutral and doesn’t push one agenda over another.

Assess culture: Learning leaders must provide leadership across the organization to promote effective communication. Begin by examining the culture and identifying the various communication channels; then, determine which ones are working and which aren’t. Most importantly, determine why things are succeeding or failing.

One method is to assess one department at a time. Take the time to understand its communication patterns. How do people communicate? What are the tools and techniques being used to share and receive information? Where is communication breaking down? Assessing the culture is an important first step in addressing communication problems.

Get the CEO on board for the assessment. Alternatively, earn the support of division managers. Next, interview executives. Meet one-on-one with key stakeholders and go to the divisional levels. Then survey employees. Conduct an anonymous online survey based on interviews with the leadership team.

Take action: There is no cookie-cutter method for improving communication. One proven approach is to perform an in-depth assessment and develop a road map that’s customized for each area of the organization. As part of the execution of the roadmap, it may make sense to choose one or two departments or divisions as pilot programs. Instill a communication master plan at the highest level so that the entire leadership team can incorporate it into the culture from the strategic, tactical and operational perspectives.

New communication systems can be fine-tuned on a smaller scale and then held up as models of excellence. Customize training programs so the entire communications culture of the organization can begin to change one step at a time. Once a solid communication plan is in place and working well, focus on consistency. Stick to the plan and walk the talk to foster an environment where employees know they can trust what their leaders are telling them.

Mary Carrido is founder and chairman and Prashant Kumar is president and CEO of MLC & Associates, a management consulting firm. They can be reached at