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How Executives Can Become More Effective Leaders by Leveraging Communication Psychology

Published By Team AdaptiveWork

“Effective communication, in turn, enables us to psychologically connect better with others, win people over, negotiate better and establish better alignment.” (Jan de Jonge, business psychologist)

It is no secret that effective communication is a key leadership (and life) skill required for being able to better connect with people across the organization’s hierarchy, with customers, fellow executives, the board, investors, and so on; as well as for running more successful negotiations, engaging teams, and executing strategic initiatives.

Yet, becoming a master of communication is no simple task.

This is why understanding the underlying psychology that drives (or hinders) effective communication, can come in very handy.

Key Psychological Principles Of Effective Communication

When we think about improving our communication skills – we often think of how we could say things better. But, in fact, according to multiple, leading business psychologists and communications experts, there are three very important psychological principles of effective communication – which have nothing to do with what you actually say.

These are:

  • You have to be just as good at listening as you are at speaking;
  • Your body language says a lot, sometimes even more than your words;
  • When you establish trust with your co-communicator, your words will be far more engaging and convincing.

Listen Before You Talk

Indeed, good communication involves two things, talking and listening. According to Dr. Neel Burton, author of “Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of the Emotions” and other books, we would all be well served to: “listen more, talk (or write) less. Less is indeed less; and often better than more.”

So how can we be better listeners?

First, by actually showing that we are listening by nodding and echoing back what was said. This way, we convey the message that it is important to us to hear what the other person has to say. Such attentiveness, in turn, will increase engagement, since people are far more engaged with those who give them the sense that they really want to listen to them.

Second, we should also proactively check our understanding by asking questions and providing feedback.

A Different Body of Text

The power of body language cannot be understated. In fact, in one famous study in which verbal signals (i.e. what was said) were pitted against nonverbal signals (i.e. body language), it was found that when your words say one thing, but your body language says another, we are five times more likely to believe the nonverbal signals.

And when verbal and non-verbal signals are not aligned, the communicator is perceived as insincere and confusing – which, clearly, greatly undermines the effectiveness of any communication effort.

So how can we ensure sincerity and clarity with our body language?

According to business psychologist Jan de Jonge, one powerful means for leveraging body language for effective communication is to maintain eye contact – which also conveys authenticity and self-confidence.

Another powerful means for articulating sincerity is to match our body language with our message. For example, if we tell a team member that we appreciate their contribution to the project, we should aim at engaging with trust, which is conveyed through an “open posture.” Making sure that we don’t cross our legs and arms, and sitting up straight. These have been shown to elicit comfort and rapport as opposed to closed and restrictive postures with crossed legs and arms.


Mirroring the other person’s behavior is also recommended, since mirroring nonverbal behaviors creates the sense that you’re on the same page. Such mirroring can entail imitating each other’s posture, stance, gestures, or facial expression, and should be done very subtly, otherwise it will be perceived as forced and inauthentic.

It’s A Matter Of Trust

“Trust is often related to leadership and power, but it is not a given. To be effective, a leader must earn the trust of his or her constituents to ensure their participation and allegiance. (Forbes)

Our third principle is about trust, where effective communication is greatly impacted by the status of the relationship and the trust that exists between those communicating.

If we hear about a risky venture, or are asked to contribute more time than we think that we have for a particular project – our willingness to step up will doubtless be impacted by whether the person communicating the ask is someone we trust (and like), or is someone who has yet to prove their trustworthiness.

This is why business communication is actually an ongoing process, rather than a siloed objective.

According to Dr. Dennis T. Jaffe, there are six building blocks to trust:

Reliability and dependability: being true to your word and fulfilling your commitments.

Transparency: sharing important information with the team and telling its members what is going on.

Competency: demonstrating the capability to execute what is being promised.

Sincerity, authenticity and congruence: ensuring alignment between what you say and what you do. For example, if you say that it’s important to listen, make sure not to cut people off when they speak.

Fairness: making sure that all the focus and energy is not only on one or a very few leaders, but also takes into consideration the other members of the team.

Openness and vulnerability: if you can’t acknowledge your mistakes or apologize when wrong, if warranted, other people will not feel comfortable disagreeing with you, nor will they share their thoughts and ideas. This leads to an environment that does not encourage pluralism, and – ultimately – hinders innovation.

In conclusion, communication nirvana is not only about a wizardry of words. Rather, for ensuring effective communication among executives, we would be well served to be be as good at listening as we are at talking; to align our body language with our spoken words; and to continually invest in securing the trust of our co-communicators.

Indeed, the role of effective communication in the success of executive teams cannot be understated. According to Jon Hamm, contributor to the Harvard Business Review, general partner at VSP Capital, author and executive coach:

“the real job of leadership is to inspire the organization to take responsibility for creating a better future. I believe effective communication is a leader’s single most critical management tool for making this happen.”

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Written by Team AdaptiveWork