Communication: Soft or Strategic?

More drama is caused by ineffective communication than almost anything else. In my book, No-Drama Leadership I make the point that even though communication skills are often categorized as “soft skills” the reality is communication is much more than just a touchy-feely soft skill. We use communication to get things done, to build relationships, to collaborate and to build bridges.

The way you  categorize communication has a direct impact on your level of mastery. Viewing communication as a strategy  changes the way you see uncomfortable situations, and influences the choices you make on how to resolve them. In short, isn’t it more strategic to influence someone to work with you than to criticize them and put up a barrier? Isn’t it more strategic to get straight to the point of what you want rather than using sarcasm or innuendo to make a point about how right you are?

Below are some general examples of situations, the common mistakes, the correction and finally an example to see how to put these ideas into practice.


Situation: Someone makes a mistake.
Mistakes: Telling them what to do; making assumptions; marking them off as incompetent.”
Correction: Ask a good question.
Example: “Stephen, did you realize we sent the package out without the proper coding?”


Circumstance: Someone uses sarcasm to make a point.
Mistakes: Using sarcasm back; holding a grudge; assuming.
Correction: Check perceptions by asking about the observed behavior.
Example: “Kaden, you just rolled your eyes. Are you irritated?”


Circumstance: You have to give performance feedback to an employee.
Mistakes: Generalizing, talking about how you feel versus what they did or did not do.
Correction: Be specific and speak about observable behaviors.
Example: “Kim, at the meeting you interrupted when someone disagreed with your point of view.”


Circumstance: Listening to an employee or customer complaint.
Mistake: Trying to convince them that you are right.
Correction: Create space by breathing and acknowledging their emotional state.
Example: “Rachel, I can tell you are frustrated. You have every reason to feel as you do.”


Circumstance: You are disappointed by a colleague.
Mistake: Criticizing them or criticizing behind their back.
Correction: Ask for what you want rather than focusing on what you cannot change.
Example: “Kevin,  I need you to call me when you are going to be late on a project.”


While soft-skills training is tactical and can be used as manipulation, strategy is all about end result and the bigger picture. Enlightened leaders see communication not as a soft skill that is nice to have, but as a strategy to get to the intended result.

Image above courtesy of Pixabay

Marlene-Blk4Marlene Chism is an executive educator, consultant, and author of Stop Workplace Drama, (Wiley 2011) and No-Drama Leadership (Bibliomotion 2015). She works with executives, and high-performing leaders who want to transform culture in the workplace. To explore opportunities please email