Communicating Graciousness in Challenging Times

November 23, 2015

When you think about your leadership style, you are naturally compelled to think about your communication style. As a manager or leader, it is up to you to convey good news and bad news and to motivate, inspire, reassure, and persuade. You have choices about your tone and approach – and being gracious is one of them.

Graciousness is not about being humble; it’s about being generous, even—especially!—under duress. It’s about being your highest, best self and making the unselfish, alley-oop pass to the other guy, whoever that may be: friend or foe. It’s about helping your audience through difficult situations in the best way possible. Graciousness is just as important when things are going well as when they’re not. It’s about sharing the glory of scoring. It’s about showing leadership through generous attitudes and actions.

For example, executives are often called upon to speak publicly and tell their company story, especially when it’s a success story. There are two ways to handle this, and you probably have seen both in action: one is to tell the story, hitting all the highlights and taking credit for the successes, and the other is to tell the story, touching on the highs and lows and talking about how the team came together, how friends and colleagues pitched in, and how clients and suppliers have been phenomenal partners in the growth. Which approach do you find more appealing? Probably the latter, because the speaker’s graciousness in telling the success story is inherently more appealing.

When communicating around challenges, loss, difficulties, or outright defeat, hitting notes of graciousness is hard. There may be hurt, anger, or deep disappointment involved, all of which can cloud a person’s ability to be his or her best self. Or there may be intense competition in the air, which also makes clearheaded, articulate graciousness more difficult to draw on. Finding it somehow, even under these circumstances, is what distinguishes you as a leader.

Yes, it may be difficult to get to higher ground, but speakers sound more appealing when they’re communicating positive and hopeful messages rather than negative and angry ones. They’re more likely to get things done, too, in that carrot-versus-stick way.

If we step back, then, and look at the types of communications leaders are most often engaged in—motivating, inspiring, selling, persuading, influencing—we find an imperative for more positive words and phrasing. Leaders are responsible for cultivating teams and for maintaining and building their franchise, the brand, and the business. As former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca once said, “Management is nothing more than motivating people.”

In the face of difficulty, there is always room for a leader to step in and frame public discourse or sentiment. This is similar to what clergy do when they deliver a eulogy, offering the comfort and perspective their audience needs in that moment of loss. You, as a leader in an organization, will no doubt face moments when your audience is counting on you to tell them what they should do with their mixed, confusing, or sad feelings. And if the moment is big enough, what you say should be something that will help them move forward and that will endure.

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Delivering both good and bad news with graciousness is the key to connecting with your employees in a more meaningful way. Enhance your leadership communication style with AMA's resources and seminars:

About The Author

Communications coach Beth Noymer Levine is an expert in helping Fortune 500 executives, professional and world-class athletes, and other high-profile individuals effectively think about, prepare for, and deliver their messages to important audiences. The founder of SmartMouth Communications, Levine is also the author of “Jock Talk: 5 Communication Principles for Leaders as Exemplified by Legends of the Sports World" and the creator of SmartMouth OnDemand , an innovative online learning platform that offers interactive skill-building communications courses. She is a frequent speaker and workshop presenter at conferences and events nationwide.

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