How managers can instill effective workplace communication

By Robert Half on 12 March 2020

In uncertain times, it’s more important than ever for managers to both demonstrate and encourage effective workplace communication.

Whether you’re a manager at a large corporation or a small business, the way you communicate with your employees can pave the road to success — or create a path of increasing uncertainty.

What is workplace communication?

It may seem like going back to basics, but it’s important to define what workplace communication is – and what it isn’t.

Effective communication is a dialogue. It is not simply speaking at someone, or delivering a directive, but actively listening as well. In other words: it’s a conversation.

This is particularly important for Millennials and Gen Z, who look for much more feedback from their managers than any generation before them, according to a Gallup survey.

Why it matters

Employees need to feel heard in order to feel satisfied in their work, and to build trust in management and their colleagues. When this cannot – or does not – happen, it can result in distrust, conflict and even employee turnover.

Conversely, strong employee communication can be a great retention tool — and this is key, since 81% of employers are concerned about holding on to top talent, according to a recent Robert Half survey. It can also boost morale, help build teams, and can have positive effects on absenteeism.

Of course, most managers aim to be effective communicators at work but find themselves facing certain barriers.

Whether that’s physical distance, psychological, stemming from workplace policies, or even as simple as a language barrier, being able to identify why communication is failing is key to building healthier, more transparent habits.

How to repair poor communication at work

The good news is building healthier communication habits isn’t difficult. Here are five ways to fix the problem — or even better, prevent it in the first place.

1. Keep information flowing

Employees might worry when they don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, creating an environment in which speculation takes root and rumors thrive. If you don’t give people information, they’re going to start guessing – and often, they assume the worst.

This doesn’t mean employees have to know everything you know, but keeping the team informed about issues that may affect them creates a sense of transparency. It lifts the fog.

2. Remain accessible

You’re the boss, it’s important to consider whether you should blur the line between authority and friendship. But easy access is important, especially in developing situations. This can be achieved by leaving your office door open, when possible, and regularly updating staff.

In times of uncertainty, you may want to provide a time for questions during a meeting or offer a way to submit anonymous questions people might be thinking about but are afraid to ask.

3. Choose the right time for the intended message

Even when the need to communicate a message is apparent, the time and place to deliver it may not be. Which will be more effective: announcing something in a weekly meeting, during a one-on-one conversation, or through an office email?

Consider how the information will affect employees individually and collectively. Is it better to directly approach a subordinate about adhering to deadlines, or is the problem more widespread, justifying an email to the entire team?

4. Use the right tone

The words you choose and your tone of voice can impact the effectiveness of your communication. The delivery and approach are key.

You don’t have to sugarcoat things, but it’s better to address a problem with a solution than to come off as browbeating.

5. Beware of non-verbal cues

Think beyond the words. Chances are, your employees are seeking your approval — or at least looking to avoid your disapproval. Body language can send subtle or strong messages.

As busy as you may be, take the time to make proper eye contact or give a friendly nod when you walk by people in the office. When they come to you with a question, don’t just tell them you’re listening; show you respect them by looking at them while they speak.

Obstacles are a normal part of business, particularly in an uncertain business climate, but effective workplace communication allows for transparency and for problems to be resolved more efficiently.

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