20 May, 2014, by Steve Upcraft
Effective Leadership Communication
Workshop Leader: Dr Louise Mullany, Associate Professor of Sociolinguistics, Director of Business Engagement, School of English. With Dr Sarah Grandage, Lecturer in Language and Drama, School of English & Geoff Bannister, Freelance Actor and Digital Project Manager.
What qualities best describe effective leadership? What characterises effective communication? Those were Dr Louise Mullany’s opening questions at this one-day workshop for East Midlands small and medium sized businesses.
Communicating effectively as a leader in the ever-changing world of contemporary business requires a versatile skill-set, as thirteen local business leaders discovered when they gathered together on Tuesday 13th May 2014 for this special event funded by the European Regional Development Fund. They were there to gain an insight into some of the most advanced approaches to communication based on internationally-renowned linguistics research at the University of Nottingham. As we discovered throughout the day, effective communication is about far more than just the words we use.
We started the day by looking at our professional “face” or self-image, a concept that is influenced by our social identity, our personal competencies and abilities and our workplace culture.
As we reflected on our self-image, Louise identified two ends of a business communication spectrum: stereotypically masculine, ‘competitive’ styles, which feature direct, autonomous language and stereotypically feminine, ‘facilitative’ styles which feature indirect, collaborative language. For example:
Competitive: “Give John that report.”
Facilitative: “Could you just give John that report when you get chance?”
The most effective communicators have the ability to switch from competitive to facilitative language in accordance with their circumstances.
The linguistic toolkit
As we delved further into the use of competitive and facilitative language, Louise guided us through a number of conversational tools we can use to our advantage, including techniques for resisting interruptions, how to successfully interrupt others and how to use prefaces to retain control of the conversation. We also looked at the dangers of rhetorical questions with a little help from Monty Python: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExWfh6sGyso.
Creating Effective Teams
In the second session, Louise looked at the value of relational talk, or ‘non-work related’ talk in the workplace. The importance of this type of conversation is often overlooked, yet it serves many valuable functions including enhancing collegiality and smoothing difficult transitions.
Humour is an equally powerful tool. It can be used successfully to fulfil a range of different functions. In addition to enhancing solidarity and collegiality, it can be used to assert rivalry in the workplace or to issue warnings or challenges, as well as being used to subvert a leader’s power. Louise outlined the lighter and darker humoristic tools, from anecdotes, wordplay and self-denigrating humour to teasing, sarcasm and irony. Humour can be very effective as a linguistic tool, but it should be used with caution, especially if we do not know our audience that well. She then invited delegates to reflect upon the types of humour that are frequently used within their organisations and whether these are effective in achieving tasks.
Body language and gesture
The non-verbal toolkit
In the third session of the day, Dr Sarah Grandage and Geoff Bannister joined Louise to introduce our ‘non-verbal toolkit’, including facial expressions, body movement, gesture and tone of voice. By acting out selected extracts from authentic business interactions, Sarah and Geoff demonstrated firsthand how negative body language and tone of voice can escalate tension in conflict situations and how a more co-operative approach can act as a diffuser. Delegates were then invited to practice in pairs, adapting their approach to ‘competitive’ or ‘facilitative’ styles and observing the outcome.
Sarah concluded the session by noting that you must use the full range of your abilities, verbal and non-verbal, to communicate effectively.
Web presence and impact
“No session on communication would be complete without some content on communicating online”, Louise observed in this final session of the day. Yet, the absence of body language and physical cues mean that written language becomes much more important in online communication.
Relationship building via social media is increasingly important in the modern world of business:
- Social media can instil brand loyalty in customers by creating a sense of community.
- Over 25 million SMEs have a Facebook page and 230 million tweets are sent daily.
- 72% of people following an SME on Twitter will be more likely to purchase their product.
The shift away from ‘one-way’ publicity and towards relationship building is becoming increasingly important as the public sphere and private sphere merge.
As we journeyed through the world of hashtags, bashtags and searchable talk, Louise advised that posting messages regularly is key. Responding to messages from others, regardless of how ‘trivial’ the content may at first appear, is also important. She advocated the use of face-enhancing language in a friendly and conversational tone. In our increasingly online world, stimulating and maximising electronic interactions is crucial.
We left the session armed with a powerful communication toolkit and an increased understanding that communication is a full package. Our sincere thanks to Dr Louise Mullany, Dr Sarah Grandage and Geoff Bannister for a fantastic day.
If you’re interested in effective business communication and wish to explore this further, you may be interested in enrolling in a University of Nottingham MOOC (massive online open course, free of charge) that I am running, starting on 27th Oct this year – for more details and to sign up, just go to:
There are already nearly 6,000 people signed up for this course – it would be great to see as many of you as possible on there!