As a leader, one thing is essential for your success, no matter your industry or role: the ability to communicate effectively.
Done well, it helps you connect to others, enhances your relationships, builds trust, and paves the way for career success by bridging gaps between you and your clients, colleagues and partners.
Effective communication is also about employing your emotional intelligence to recognize and understand emotions (both yours and others) and then use that information to guide your decision-making.
But even the most emotionally intelligent leaders can falter/struggle, too, especially when under pressure.
When you’re working in the fast lane, your first instinct may be to immediately react to any issue, email, or person that enters your orbit, especially when it’s something you don’t agree with or understand. But this can cause you to say and do things in haste you’ll later regret.
The finest communicators understand the difference between being overly reactive and thoughtfully responsive. And one of the best practices of the latter comes from an unlikely source: comedian and television personality Craig Ferguson, who suggests pausing before saying anything first to ask yourself these three questions:
1. Does this need to be said?
Before you open your mouth or fire off that email, consider if what you’re about to say is a crucial bit of communication or something else — your opinion, gossip, a knee-jerk defensive reaction, or an offhand comment you haven’t thought through. To help you further qualify it, remember the THINK acronym, asking yourself if it’s True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind. If it doesn’t meet most of these criteria, perhaps it’s better not accusative
2. Does this need to be said by me?
Once you’ve established that something needs to be said, the next filter is to ask if that message needs to come from you. Depending on the circumstances and your relationship with the intended recipient, the information needing to be relayed might be delivered more effectively by a colleague or one of your direct reports. And this doesn’t just apply to hard conversations, by the way. Empowering your senior leaders to share good news or feedback signals to them and others that you trust and value their judgment.
3. Does this need to be said by me now?
Even if this is something that needs to be said by you, it may not need to (or should) be voiced at this moment, especially in an emotionally-charged situation. Instead, take a few moments to reset. And chances are, you’ll discover that your commentary can wait until you have time to prepare, schedule a meeting for a later date, and craft a thoughtful response— or that you don’t need to respond at all.
By pausing to ask yourself these three questions, you can be more intentional with how and when to deliver your message. And your ability to show restraint, especially when stressed or in the middle of a heightened exchange, will set you apart as a leader and communicator.