If You Want to Connect, Kill the Hot Air

Communication is a dangerous word. It is a hot air balloon that floats around your organization, and we all think we are superb at it. Yet we remain so disconnected, misinterpreting this and that, being blindsided, misled, or offended.

Yet sometimes the best we’ve got to solve this hot air balloon problem is:

  • “I’d like you to work on improving your communication.”
  • “Do you mean how clearly I speak? How well I listen? My initiative? My short-hand?”
  • “Umm. Yes.”

We struggle in talking about communication and how to get the point across to our team member that he or she needs to “communicate better”. We’re losing big here on translating what we want done differently by those we work with. They are left staring helplessly, more lost than before.

Your job as a leader is to pull this floating balloon back down to earth and ground what you want from your team in order to create communication that cannot be misunderstood.

So how can you better your organization’s ability to communicate?

Be “present”

Face-to-Face >> Phone Call >> Email or Text. In case we don’t know, that’s the order, ranging from most optimal to least optimal. The most “optimal” communication medium isn’t about what is most convenient for you. The objective isn’t saving you time. It is about how to communicate without being misunderstood. Face-to-face gives you and your recipient the added advantages of eye contact, facials, body language and all the real interaction that verbal and nonverbal communication can create. As a rule, the more sensitive the subject, the more it is potentially conflictive, the more you need to exercise the courtesy of extending yourself in person. Phone calls, emails and texts don’t clearly communicate the way face-to-face does.

Keep Groups Small

Communicating optimally in a group setting takes time and great practice. It starts with a strong one-on-one foundation. So in strengthening your foundation as a leader, a great starter formula is: One-on-ones >> Groups.

How are your meetings? Are folks engaged in collaborative discussion and lively debate or have they zoned out? Why have they mentally checked out? Because someone else is listening. Because the cell phone is more interesting. If you can’t make progress one-on-one, you most definitely won’t in a group setting.

If your group meetings are rocking along, wonderful. If they are struggling to survive, consider shrinking the group down to 1 or 2 people. Achieving bidirectional authenticity is inversely proportional to the number of attendees. So if genuine communication is your goal, the smaller the better. Even going from a two person meeting to a three person meeting can greatly dilute authenticity. If you must have a group, gain traction here by starting small with one-on-ones or twos. Expand your group only when, by having such group, your communication will be enhanced by the group, as opposed to each person’s engagement being compromised by the other’s presence.

Be Intentional with Language

Your word choice- the magic recipe. Your words can be your greatest asset or an intolerable handicap. Once done, they cannot be undone. Be clear, specific, and leave no room for misunderstanding. You set the tone as the leader and the standard for language use. Even if being abundantly clear in your language makes you uncomfortable, don’t give into the tendency to be vague and generic with your team. This is lazy talk and skirts the edges of the point, without actually ever landing on point. Get to the core of the topic. If it is worth your voice, your time, your team’s time and attention, then it is worth clear, vulnerable and, sometimes, raw language. That is what is going to give you and those present a fair shot at any real action following your communication.

You and your team are only as strong as you are able to communicate with one another. The first sign of opaque, ambiguous, anonymous, even hyper-politically correct language needs to be stopped in its tracks. When a team member states for example, “sometimes some of us don’t understand what’s going on around here” (pure hot air!), put the brakes on this floaty language by gently asking, “Who is concerned? What specifically is unclear? Why not tell me what really is going on?” Get to the source– don’t entertain one’s poor use of language by reacting to it as is. A wobbly foundation to solve a “might be” problem is a pathway to assumptions, misreading, and all around shaky conclusions.

“Hot air” communication tends to rise quickly and spread, building upon itself in an organization as “the way the company speaks.” This hot air is then part of who you are, with hollow language being widely acceptable and consequently, weakening the building blocks of your “could be” functional team. As a leader, you are responsible for fostering courage in your team to communicate clearly. Your own courage and consistency in setting the example is critical.


  • Be present
  • Keep groups small
  • Be intentional with language

Master these three and word — the right word- will spread in your organization, keeping that hot air balloon from ever taking flight.

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