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November 7, 2022

Repeat After Me: New Research Reinforces Repetition Is Good Communication


A senior executive I work with recently said, “I’m tired of sharing these same messages and stories.”

My response: “YES! That’s what we want, because it says you’re being consistent with your messages across audiences.”

It’s crucial to look at your communications as a process of repetition. Leaders who haven’t realized the benefits of effective communication tend to think of it as a check-off-the-box activity.

For example, they’ll think, “I sent an email. Therefore, I communicated.” By doing so, they confuse getting the message out with actually creating shared meaning and understanding.

New Data Supports This Point

A recent study published in the Academy of Management Journal finds that, for the most part, leaders are perceived to not communicate enough, rather than over-communicate.

Core findings include:

  • Perceived leadership ability is greatest (mean score of 4.08) when employees perceive their leader’s communication quantity as being well-calibrated – that is, aligning communications to meet employee expectations and needs. Only 23% of participants rated their manager as being a well-calibrated communicator.
  • Leaders are nearly 10x as likely to be criticized for under-communicating than overcommunicating. In the eyes of employees, leaders tend to under-communicate and fall short of employee expectations for task-relevant downward communication. Managers were significantly more likely to be rated as under-communicating (74.7%) than overcommunicating (25.3%).
  • This tendency for under-communicating is costing leaders. Those who under-communicate are viewed as less qualified for a leadership role because they are viewed as less empathic. On a 1-5 scale gauging perceived empathy, under-communicating leaders had a mean score of 2.93 and over-communicating leaders had a mean score of 3.64.

    Moreover, perceived leadership ability was rated as lower for the under-communicating leader (mean score of 2.20) relative to the over-communicating leader (mean score of 3.60).

It’s worth noting, leaders who have a preference toward introversion often tend to think they’re communicating more than they are. And those who are extroverts typically communicate a lot, but the quality of those communications tends to be lower. Get tips on how to communicate more effectively as an introvert or extrovert here.

Effective Leader Communication Builds Trust

Building trust and credibility, and moving people to action, is about the consistency of the message across touch points that’s backed up through action. Words and actions are aligned and there’s purposeful repetition.

How do employees know what’s important and what they should pay attention to? Ideally, they hear it from the CEO. It’s made relevant by their supervisor. It’s reinforced by leaders. They might read it online. And as important, they notice that actions inside the company mirror the words.

Our Advice for Leaders

Knowing employees often see leaders as under-communicating, be sure to check in and ask them about their communication preferences, including cadence, and make adjustments to meet those communication needs. The payoff will be employees who feel informed and connected, which drives engagement.

Remember, chances are, you’re not repeating yourself enough.

As you reflect on your communications, do you see an opportunity to repeat yourself more?

—David Grossman

Take a deeper dive into building trust in your organization and see how it leads to better business outcomes. Click below to download the—7 Critical Traits for Building Trust Inside Companies—eBook today!

Click to download the 7 Critical Traits for Building Trust Inside Companies ebook

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