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Associations Now

How to Close the Communication Gap

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, January/February 2014 Brain Power

By: Kristin Clarke

Summary: John Spence, author of Awesomely Simple and opening keynoter for the 2014 Great Ideas Conference, shares three tools for strengthening internal communications.

Everyone knows that strong communication skills are essential to great leadership, and everyone thinks they are wonderful communicators. Yet research reveals that large gaps typically exist between how executives rate their communication skills and how subordinates score them.

John Spence, author of Awesomely Simple and opening keynoter for the 2014 ASAE Great Ideas Conference, taking place March 9–11 at the Hyatt Regency Orlando, is a witness to the charade. "In many associations, I see a disconnect, especially between the CEO and/or senior staff and the rest of the organization, but also sometimes between the board and CEO," says Spence. "The reason is that senior staff are talking about vision and strategy a lot, so they feel like they're communicating, but typically one or two levels down in the organization, people have no idea what the long-term vision and strategy are."

A good way to test the quality of communication between organizational layers is to note "when there's intimidation or fear, [confusion] about priorities, or a little politics in the room," he says. "You then must double or triple the amount of communications you put out, especially in areas of fear like job security."

Spence shares three tools to close the communication gap:

  • Adopt "symbol management." Spence says, "Do small things to show people you're focused and that things are OK and on target."
  • Revisit "management-by-walking-around." Leave your desk behind and visit staff.
  • Give everyone a thorough overview, then open the floor for difficult questions and answer truthfully. "Staff will slowly realize that every time their leader says ABC is going to happen, it does."

Contributed by Kristin Clarke, a business journalist and writer for ASAE. Email:

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Mind the Gap."]

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