When it comes to communication, we all tend to think we’re pretty good at it. Truth is, even those of us who are good communicators aren’t nearly as good as we think we are. Researchers at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business put this theory to the test and what they discovered is startling. In the study, the researchers paired subjects with people they knew well and then again with people they’d never met. The researchers discovered that people who knew each other well understood each other no better than people who’d just met! Even worse, participants frequently overestimated their ability to communicate, and this was more pronounced with people they knew well.

“Our problem in communicating with friends is that we have an illusion of insight,” said study co-author Nicholas Epley. “Getting close to someone appears to create the illusion of understanding more than actual understanding.”

When communicating with people we know well, we make presumptions about what they understand—presumptions that we don’t dare make with strangers. This tendency to overestimate how well we communicate and how well we’re understood is so prevalent that psychologists even have a name for it: Closeness-communication bias.

Communication is the real work of leadership; you simply can’t become a great leader until you are a great communicator. Great communicators create a connection that is real, emotional, and personal. The eight strategies that follow will help overcome the communication bias that tends to hold us back. Apply these strategies and watch your communication skills reach new heights.

1.Speak to groups as individuals
As a leader, you often have to speak to groups of people. Whether a small team meeting or a company-wide gathering, you need to develop a level of intimacy in your approach that makes each individual in the room feels as if you’re speaking directly to him or her. The trick is to talk to the group as if you were talking to a single person. Be emotionally genuine and exude the same feelings, energy, and attention you would one-on-one.

2.Talk so people will listen
Great communicators read their audience carefully to ensure they aren’t wasting their breath on a message that people aren’t ready to hear. Talking so people will listen means you adjust your message on the fly to stay with your audience. Droning on to ensure you’ve said what you wanted to say does not have the same effect on people as engaging them in a meaningful dialogue in which there is an exchange of ideas. Resist the urge to drive your point home at all costs. When your talking leads to people asking good questions, you know you’re on the right track.

3.Listen so people will talk
One of the most disastrous temptations for a leader is to treat communication as a one-way street. When you communicate, you must give people ample opportunity to speak their minds. If you find that you’re often having the last word in conversations, then this is likely something you need to work on.

Listening isn’t just about hearing words; it’s also about listening to the tone, speed, and volume of the voice. What is being said? Anything not being said? What are the hidden messages? When someone is talking to you, stop everything else and listen fully until the other person has finished speaking. When you are on a phone call, don’t type an email. Simple behaviours like this will help you stay in the present moment and pick up on the cues the other person sends.

4.Connect emotionally
Maya Angelou said it best: “People will forget what you said and did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” As a leader, your communication is impotent if people don’t connect with it on an emotional level. This is hard for many leaders to pull off because they feel they need to project a certain persona. Let that go. To connect with your people emotionally, you need to be transparent. Be human. Show them what drives you, what you care about, what makes you get out of bed in the morning. Express these feelings openly, and you’ll forge an emotional connection.

5.Read body language
Your authority makes it hard for people to say what’s really on their minds. So, you must become adept at understanding unspoken messages. The greatest wealth of information lies in people’s body language. Purposefully watch body language during meetings and casual conversation. Once you tune into body language, the messages will become loud and clear. Pay as much attention and you’ll uncover facts and opinions that people are unwilling to express directly.

6.Prepare your intent
A little preparation goes a long way toward saying what you wanted to say and having a conversation achieve its intended impact. Don’t prepare a speech; develop an understanding of what the focus of a conversation needs to be and how you will accomplish this. Your communication will be more persuasive and on point when you prepare your intent ahead of time.

7.Skip the jargon
The business world is filled with jargon and metaphors that are harmless when people can relate to them. Problem is, most leaders overuse jargon and alienate their subordinates and customers with their “business speak.” Use it sparingly if you want to connect with your people.

8.Practise active listening
Active listening is a simple technique that ensures people feel heard, an essential component of good communication. To practise active listening:
• Spend more time listening than you do talking.
• Do not answer questions with questions.