by Jennifer Tobkin
by Jennifer Tobkin
Work environments where people do not communicate effectively are frustrating for all parties involved. Morale plummets when employees must sit through in-person meetings or Zoom sessions where the manager drones on. Managers send emails full of cryptic instructions, and when employees misunderstand what they should do, the manager flies into a rage. The result is reduced productivity and an unpleasant experience for everyone. If your profit margins are slipping and the employee attrition rate is high, the solution could come down to leaders and communication.
Common Misunderstandings About Leaders and Communication
Some people go a long way in their management careers without learning much about communication skills. These are some common mistakes that managers make when communicating with employees:
• Talking more than they listen
• Using too many corporate buzzwords (such as “loop you in” and “jump on a Zoom call”) instead of just using plain language
• Saying things by email that should be said in person and the other way around
• Making accusations
• Being repetitive or verbose in their communications
When things go wrong, sometimes it takes managers a long time to see that the way forward starts with leaders and communication. You might not need a new brand identity or an expensive corporate retreat at all. Perhaps you just need to learn new techniques for communicating with your coworkers.
How Can Leaders in the Workplace Improve Their Communication Skills?
You are never too old to learn more effective strategies for communicating with other stakeholders in a business environment. Some of the communication problems are easier to fix. For example, you can make a New Year’s resolution to stop interrupting other people before they finish speaking. The resolution could even start with a decision not to interrupt your spouse or children, but it will pay dividends if you also apply it in your workplace.
Many of us have trouble seeing our own bad habits, even when they are obvious to everyone else with whom we interact. Therefore, a good first step regarding leaders and communication could be to sign up for some counseling sessions with a leadership coach. You might also sign up for a group course on workplace communication skills.
Too Much Information Is as Much of a Problem as Too Little Information
Employees often complain among themselves, though not to management, that their managers get in the way of their workflow instead of facilitating productivity. These are some of the ways that managers sometimes make it harder for employees to accomplish their work tasks:
• Rambling aimlessly during work meetings or sending excessively wordy emails
• Expecting employees to read the manager’s mind
• Overreacting to minor mistakes
• Changing their minds frequently and arbitrarily about what employees should be doing
• Giving contradictory instructions or making requests that are impossible to fulfill
• Micromanaging by supervising employees too closely and giving too much negative criticism
Fortunately, one does not usually find all of these qualities in the same manager. Notably, all of these problems relate in some way to leaders and communication.
What Your Employees Say to You Is as Important as What You Say to Them
Did you ever consider why employees talk about these problems with their peers but not with their managers? Getting employees to open up to you is an important communication skill for leaders. Building trust and an easy rapport with your employees takes time, even if you possess this skill in spades. Generally being approachable is just the beginning. You can do this by engaging your employees in social conversations, whether when you pass by them in the hallways or by stopping by their offices. You should keep these conversations brief so that you do not waste your employees’ time or distract them from their work. It is better to converse with one employee for 30 minutes over the course of 10 workdays than to make an employee take a 30-minute break from work just to shoot the breeze with you.
Sending the message that you know your employees and care what they have to say is only the first step, though. It is even more important to seek your employees’ input on important business decisions.
How to Get Employees to Talk About Things That Really Matter
If you have invested time in getting to know your employees, you will have a sense of how to frame your questions in order to get detailed and honest responses. Use methods that give employees enough flexibility so that each can respond in the format that is most comfortable and convenient for him or her. For example, you can send a group email to your whole team, but give them the option to respond to it individually. Tell them that, if they prefer to talk about it by phone or in person, they can set up an appointment with you for this.
Keep a certain level of confidentiality in your one-on-one conversations with employees. Most people do not like speaking in front of a group or making their opinions publicly known; the publicity hounds on social media are the exception to the rule. Use your judgment about whether an employee would want you to share a certain piece of information with the group. If you are not sure, ask an employee during the one-on-one conversation if he or she minds you sharing the employee’s input with others. By giving credit to employees when in conversations with other employees by citing what an employee previously told you, you are showing that you are listening and value their input.
If You Can Only Communicate One Message, What Should It Be?
You might balk at the idea that leaders can only communicate one message. Perhaps you think that this is just a thought exercise question, like when music aficionados ask each other which album they would take with them to a desert island if they could only bring one. Imagine, though, that you were going to be out of communication for an extended period. What would you want your employees to do in your absence? Try to summarize as briefly as possible the most important thing they should do. These are some examples:
• Treat everyone with respect.
• Prioritize environmental sustainability over affordability when the two are mutually exclusive.
• It is worthwhile to take risks in the interest of innovation
Your task as a manager is to communicate your company’s values to your team. You don’t have to do it in a gimmicky way by plastering it on company swag. It is not even necessary to say it directly. Writers call this “Show, don’t tell.” Teachers call it “Be a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage.” Lead by example and show your team what you want them to do. Then get out of the way and give them a chance to do it.
Your Silence Speaks Volumes
If verbosity and micromanagement are your greatest vices, you may just need to disappear for a business day or more and see how well your team does in your absence. If your team knows what you expect them to do, and they have the motivation to do it even when you are away, this is a mark of effective leadership. If they fall apart while you are away, it means that you have not communicated your expectations clearly enough or built enough cohesion among your team. It might also mean that they are so used to you micromanaging them that they are afraid to make any decisions without your constant interference.
Once you get your team used to the fact that your modus operandi is to give brief instructions and then back off, you will see their creativity and self-confidence flourish. Giving people enough breathing room to do their work is a skill to be learned like any other. Adopting a “high responsibility, low control” management style takes practice. If it means locking the door to your office, putting a desert island screen saver on your computer, and listening to Rubber Soul from beginning to end, then do it. When you emerge from your office feeling more relaxed, you will find more productive, more relaxed employees who have a lot to tell you. Listen to their enthusiasm and their ideas. It may feel like you are doing nothing, but what you are actually doing is leadership.
Communication Is Important for Everyone, Not Just for Managers
It takes at least two people to miscommunicate. Therefore, when leaders invest in improving their own communication skills, they are only addressing part of the problem. To ensure that your workplace operates more efficiently, you should build everyone’s communication skills, not only your own. Group workshops on conflict resolution and on communication, in general, are available for organizations of a variety of types and sizes.
Your organization has everything to gain by investing in leaders and communication. The first step to improving productivity and employee satisfaction is to ensure that all stakeholders feel that other members of the organization understand and respect them. PeaceComm offers individual coaching and group training sessions on workplace communication. Sign up for a call to discuss the best solutions for you and your organization.
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