Times are tough. And while Singapore has weathered most of the economic downturn experienced throughout the world, it is still not immune to the impact of a slowing global economy and the subsequent reductions in workforce, and systematic budget cuts.

It is during these times that communicating with employees is not only critical, but necessary to achieving a company’s goals.

Great chief executive officers (CEOs) and leaders know that boosting employee engagement is most critical during tough times, but great leaders master this art during all economic climates — the good and the bad; during change and transformation; through new strategies and into new ventures.

To best position themselves for success, especially in an uncertain future, leaders need to develop communications skills that motivate, inspire and create a culture of two-way dialogue not only with their employees but also with all of their constituencies.

 By definition, communication is a “two-way process of reaching mutual understanding in which participants not only exchange information but also create and share meaning”.

Truly effective leaders know that to do their job well they have to first establish two-way dialogue that inspires action, fosters commitment, and creates enduring change in behaviour.

Whether you are a CEO, C-suite executive or team leader, you can strengthen the culture of your company and your team by implementing some best practices shared by great executive leaders. Here are some of the key practices they all have in common:

Less is more

Say what you have to say clearly and to the point. It shows you have thought it through and you have command of the topic. In today’s age of information overload, your audience’s attention span is even shorter — make the most of the time when they are tuned in.

Command the language

Be articulate and eloquent in written and spoken communication. If this is an area where you can use improvement, be proactive and find help.

Develop empathy

Be human. Think like your audience. What would you like to hear if you were sitting in their place? Brian Solis, author of Engage, wrote: “Effective engagement is inspired by the empathy that develops simply by being a human being.”

Ask yourself, “What do they really want to know? What are their concerns? How will they be impacted by what I am going to share? What new relevant information can I leave them with?

Great leaders communicate what their audiences need to hear, not just what they want to say, and often times there is a difference.

Have a conversation

Don’t memorise what you are going to say and don’t read from PowerPoint slides. Master your topic and speak about it in simple terms so that everyone can understand you. Face your audience as you would in any conversation. Use examples and tell stories appropriate to the point — these will make remembering what you said easier.

Don’t dump data

Even if you are addressing a group of like-minded professionals, data can be boring. And raw data doesn’t tell the whole story, so use data to back up your idea or the behaviour you want to drive, not as the main thrust of your presentation.

Invite dialogue

Before you finish, always leave time for a Question & Answer session. Invite your audience into the dialogue. Ask provocative questions and learn what’s on their minds. This will let them know they are a valued part of the conversation.

Repeat the message

Trust is fleeting and so are memories. To gain trust and message recall from your audience, find innovative ways to consistently communicate your message. Remember: even the most powerful messages must be repeated to sink into the minds of listeners and translate to actions.

Keep in mind that who delivers the message is as impactful as the message itself. The person who delivers the message can often be the difference between resolving a crisis quickly or escalating it, or between information being received with priority or being ignored.

Use every tool

Say what you have to say in different ways — formally and informally — using every available communication tool at your disposal at the appropriate time. Your audiences aren’t always reading e-mails — meet them where they live and where they get their information.

Build a dialogue

Not all companies have a communication structure that supports the flow of messages, provides the training required for managers to become great communicators or the available technology to build a culture of two-way dialogue with their audiences.

If you are a CEO or a C-suite executive, it’s up to you lead the charge. If you are a team leader, make changes in the ways you communicate, then make broader recommendations for your superiors based on your success.

Great leaders understand that aligning their messages and communication strategies to the business goals will help drive employee behaviours and consumer awareness, and enhance corporate reputation.