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Leadership Communication

The effectiveness of communication is not defined by the communication, but by the response. – Milton Erickson

I just exited one career, the only career I had ever known, for something new, which at that time, I didn’t know. It was painful, and part of the journey was learning about myself and the world around me. I was enrolled in a neuro linguistic programming class, and we were learning about communication, how we receive information from the outside world, how we process it and how it influences the way we communicate and respond to others. The lesson I am about to share with you changed my life and the way I communicate forever.

One day, during class, we were discussing communication effectiveness and we were exploring the following presupposition - the meaning of your communication is the response you get. I didn’t know much about presuppositions and my initial reaction was, what? What did you say? The meaning of my what is what response? I struggled to understand its meaning until we broke into groups and experienced it for ourselves.

We broke up into groups of three. There was a communicator, a receiver, and an observer. The communicator’s role was to communicate a message to the receiver. The receiver’s role was to receive the message. The observer, me, was to determine whether the communicator was effective. After we completed the exercise, the instructor asked me if the communicator was effective. I replied yes. He then asked how I knew the communicator was effective. I paused, thought for a few moments, looked around, smiled, and replied, because I heard the message, and I repeated it to the class. The instructor smiled and repeated the presupposition - the meaning of your communication is the response you get, and asked the class, how do we know the communicator was effective? I was silent and during that silence something clicked for me. It’s not the delivery, it’s the response. I got it! As a communicator, it’s not if I know what I mean that matters. It’s whether the other person or people understand what I mean that matters.

Can you remember a time when you were clear about what you were saying but the other person heard something else? I have, and I used to blame others for not understanding. The presupposition, the meaning of your communication is the response you get, suggests we take responsibility for what we say. Instead of pointing fingers when others do not understand, we must be flexible and think of other ways to be clear.

Leadership is about influence and influence is about communication. To be successful leaders we must communicate effectively to influence the behavior of others. Leaders may know what they want and why but knowing others know what they want and why is the difference that makes a difference.

Communicators must not assume others understand simply because they say it. Some schools of communication believe both parties have 50% responsibility. Not my school. I aim higher and suggest 100%. One of my clients used to say, without good communications skills, a leader wouldn’t be understood by others. He also said being an effective communicator was the most valuable skill he possessed.


Robert Paulson


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