According to a study by the National Business Research Institute, the number 1 problem people report having with their boss or manager is a lack of communication. From the report:
“I think one of the things employees dislike the most is the lack of context that their employers provide,” said Heidi Gorman, CMO of Capital H Group. “By that I mean many employees do not get enough information from their employers to have answers to basic questions like, ‘What’s really expected of me?’, ‘How will my performance be judged?’ and ‘How does what I do, day-in-and-day-out, help the overall company achieve its goals?’ It is important for all employees, regardless of what they do, to have these essential questions answered because it gives a sense of meaning to their work.”
One reason that communication problems are so rampant is because they are ongoing, as opposed to single events. When communication fails, employees tend to draw back and become afraid to ask questions or speak up when they foresee a problem.
In short, if you want open communication from your employees when it matters, you need to model the behavior yourself. Here are a few suggestions to get started:
Share your knowledge.
Whether it’s about a change the company is making or a client you’ve worked with before, be proactive about sharing information with your team. Most employees are much better able to roll with the punches when they understand the reasoning behind what’s happening.
Engage in small talk.
You may think small talk is counter productive at work, but employees are more likely to trust you if they feel like they know you. Inquiring about their families, hobbies, or interests in a genuine way is a good way to foster trust and more open communication.
Listen more; talk less.
There are two major components of effective communication and one of them is listening — yet it’s often overlooked as a management skill. Try active listening where you paraphrase and repeat back what the other person has just said. It not only gives them the opportunity to clarify if you’ve misunderstood something, but it also forces you to listen to them, instead of thinking about how you plan to respond.
Think about communications preferences.
You probably already know that some of us are visual learners and some auditory learners, but that extends well outside the classroom. Some employees will do just fine talking about complex issues, while others will prefer to have the conversation outlined in writing. If you can discover each employee’s preference, you can ensure you’re reaching out in a way they’ll understand.
Keep feedback constructive.
If employees feel constantly under attack or criticism, they may be reluctant to open the lines of communication for any reason. Practice offering constructive feedback paired with praise, and always remember to only criticise the act, never the person.
One final bonus tip: never stop practicing. You may think you’re a stellar communicator — until faced with an employee whose communication style is completely different from your own, or you find yourself in a stressful situation. Keep seeking out ways to learn, practice, and improve your communications skills to be one of the workforce’s beloved bosses, rather than one of the dreaded ones.