Effective Employee Communication

Practical Solutions For Increasing The Quality And Results Of Communication In Your Company

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Effective Employee Communication:

Practical Solutions For Increasing The Quality And Results Of Communication In Your Company

What are the communication patterns in your company? Do you have some specific ways in which you communicate with your team members and how they communicate with you? Which are these?

Communication patterns play an important role in the relationships that are created between the leader and the employee and between employees, and, thus, they play an important role in their engagement. The employee’s relationship with the leader and relationships with his/her colleagues are two major components of employee engagement.

Because the size of the company matters in how successful are the communication patterns within in, I’ll focus here on communication in companies with up to 30 employees. In these companies, where the number of employees is small, the management can know each employee and can interact with them in person. 

This is a strong advantage, first, because the manager of the company, who often is the founder of the company, can influence directly his or her team members, transmitting them how he wants them to communicate with him and with other colleagues.

Secondly, small companies can introduce changes much faster than large organizations. Decisions can be taken and implemented faster.

And thirdly, the communication from the lower levels to the top levels is easier, unlike in large organizations where more approvals are required and where people may not even try to communicate their improvement ideas for example.

If you’ve ever worked in a large corporation, with 500 – 5000 employees, you know what I mean. If not, imagine having to follow a process that was set by company members who are in a different country, whom you don’t know and have no contact with. You can only tell if something is wrong with this process to your direct manager, who may choose not to proceed forward with your observation/feedback. Your manager may also not be in contact with the people who created the process or with those who can change it.

Best Practices For Effective Employee Communication

1. Clear and concisive communication
2. Two-way communication
3. Practice active listening
4. Avoid criticism and negative feedback. Instead, give constructive feedback
5. Transparent and honest communication

1. Clear and Concisive Communication

If you observe that some employees have difficulties to express themselves clearly and concessive, guide them to improve their communication. This will save your and their time and will lead to a better understanding of their messages.

They may:

Use too many details that are not important for the subject that is discussed

They may lose themselves in other topics and lose track of what is important to communicate

They may give too little details or data about the subject that is discussed

They may use a language / words with which you or their colleagues are not familiar with

They may speak too fast or too slow for their interlocutors

Just tell them, in a positive way, what they should pay attention when they communicate. For example, if one employee uses too many details or open topics that are not related to the main goal of the discussion, ask him to focus on the goal of the discussion and prepare the points he/she will touch in the discussion in advance. This preparation will help the employee to focus more on the main subject.

These employees may not be aware of how their communication is perceived by others. Giving them feedback helps them realize this and how they can improve their communication.

Welcome their questions and answer them. I have seen leaders who get angry and show that they are bothered when they received questions from their ‘’subordinates’’. This is a sure way to block their communication, because they will avoid saying anything that will be badly received. Important data may not be used, because they don’t know about these, and their work may be more difficult. The leader may forget to say something important and they will not ask because of his/her reactions. I’m sure you are not one of those ‘’leaders’’.

2. Two-Way Communication

As an extension of the above advice, encourage your employees to approach you when they have concerns or questions about their activities.

Give them some ways in which they can do that. If you are in the same working space, maybe you are ok with approaching you directly, or, if you have a separate office, or you are not at the office, maybe by an internal chat tool, by WhatsApp, or in urgent situation, by phone. You’ll still be in control of your time, because you choose when to answer these requests.

Sometimes, even though you discussed and planned ahead with your employees their activities, when they actually go and do the work, they may encounter situations at which they didn’t think of, or other decisions have to be taken and they need your support or approval.

How to make this work and not be approached for things that they should be taking care of?

Establish in which situations they have to consult you and in which situations they are expected to manage things on their own.

If more than one employee is involved in an activity, or in a project, who should communicate with you? Assign a member who will be in charge of the activity and who will communicate with you. If you don’t do this, they may all send you messages. Thus, at one point of the activity you will be talking with X and at another point you will be talking with Y. This situation will consume more of your time, can lead to misunderstandings between the employees who are involved in the activity, the information will circulate more difficult between them, and their productivity will be low.

3. Practice Active Listening

Listening is part of the communication process. Without it we can’t understand each other.

Active listening is a skill that helps us to improve our communication and avoid misunderstandings, unnecessary disagreements or conflicts.

Key elements of active listening

Focus on what the interlocutor is saying. Eliminate things that can be distractions, like texting a message, watching a laptop screen etc. Also, don’t think what you will answer while you are listening.

Do not interrupt the other person.

Try to understand the interlocutor’s point of view, without assuming anything. Show empathy.

Ask clarifying questions when the message is not clear.

Pay attention to the interlocutor non-verbal language, for example: his tone of voice, his body posture, his state of being etc. A lot of information comes from the non-verbal language too. In fact, 93% of our communication is non-verbal.

Pay attention to your own non-verbal language. Have an open posture to encourage communication. For example, be directed towards the interlocutor, look at him, do not frown or show offensive attitudes, smile etc.

When people know that they are addressing to a real listener, not a person who judges them, they are more willing to share their thoughts and make suggestions.

People who feel listened, appreciate their interlocutors and cooperate with them. The need for recognition, for acceptance, is a universal human need.

Knowing the key principles of active listening is the first step to practicing them and being a model for your employees. It will help if you come back to them from time to time so you don’t forget them.  I sometimes forget to pay attention to all these and then feel a little frustrated that I didn’t do a god job.

You could print them and put them somewhere where they are visible to you. Also, you could put them somewhere where they are visible for your team. If they see the all the time they are more likely to get in the habit of practicing them.

4. Avoid Criticism And Negative Feedback. Instead Give Constructive Feedback.

Our natural response to criticism and negative feedback is to protect ourselves. We become defensive and tend not to listen what the interlocutor is saying. Thus, most probably a big part of the message is not even heard by the person who is criticized. Feelings like anger, frustration, revolt, upset, stay in the way of receiving the message.

This doesn’t mean not telling an employee what he/she is doing wrong, but saying it in a constructive way.

Guidelines on how you and your employees can give constructive feedback

Make sure you understand the idea or behaviour you want to talk about, before you address any criticism. You can ask clarifying questions to find out the reasons for which this person sustains that idea or has that specific behaviour.

Talk about the idea or the behaviour that is criticized, not about the person. Separate the person from the ideas or behaviours. This means to eliminate everything that refers to the person’s character, personality or traits.

Explain why you consider that this person’s idea / behaviour is not ok. Back up your arguments with proven facts. If a behaviour is criticized, explain what the effects of his behaviour on you / upon other colleagues / on customers are.

Specify what aspects of his/her idea/behaviour are ok. Probably you can find some positive aspects, even though these are not enough reasons for you to sustain his/her idea/behaviour.

Use a neutral tone of voice. Show an open and understanding attitude towards this person.

In the case a behaviour is criticized, make sure you explain to this person what the behaviour that you expected from him was. Tell him how you want him to behave in the future and why.

Check if this person understands your point of view and if he agrees with you. Ask if he has objections related to your arguments or requirements. In this way, you can discuss them and reach an agreement with this person. If the person doesn’t accept your point of view, he may do what you request him, but his engagement will be low, and thus the results will be low as well.

For a criticism to be constructive, it has to help the person who is criticized to develop. Through your feedback, he /she has the chance to learn something, to become aware of some things, or to see things from different perspectives.

5. Transparent And Open Communication

An important component of efficient communication is creating trustful relationships between you and your employees and between them. You can do that by being transparent and honest in your communication and by encouraging them to do the same.

Lack of trust can make them retain information from you, hide their mistakes or things that they think will not be well received by you. This is another reason to avoid criticism and focus on solutions of the issues they encounter.

How to be open and transparent

Share information that are relevant for them, like company’s plans and goals, performance.

Keep your word. Promises that are not respected can reduce employee engagement.

Recognize their contributions and achievements. This help them to stay engaged.

Ask for their feedback – This shows that you value their opinions and perspectives and creates a collaborative working environment. Also, this will encourage them to ask for feedback themselves, which will improve communication between them.

Where You Communicate

How your workplace is organized? Do you work in the same space with other people from your company? Do you have a separate office? Do you have meeting rooms?

It’s important to have discussions with your employees in spaces that are appropriate for the goals of the discussions. If you have to discuss with a team member about his activities, communication will be more effective if you have the conversation in a separate space, so other people are not witnessing this discussion.

Most probably they don’t need to know what you two discuss.  

Their attention will be distracted by your conversation and they will not be able to concentrate fully on their work. It is not such a thing like distributive attention. Every time you pay attention to multiple things, your attention will decrease on the separate things. So you’ll not be 100 % attentive to your activities but maybe 80% or less, depending on how interested you are in the other things that are happening around you. 

They may disturb your discussion with their problems or activities. They may start their conversations, talk on the phone, or they may do something that distracts your attention.

They may make wrong interpretations of the pieces of information that they pick from your conversation, without knowing the whole context.

You or your interlocutor will not be only preoccupied by the discussion but how this discussion is perceived by those that witness it.

These are some reasons for which is important to choose wisely the space where you will talk with your employees. 

I recommend at least two spaces where private conversations can take place. One that is available for you and one that is available for your team members.

They have too situations in which they have to discuss specific task or projects, or make phone calls, and a meeting room will add a tremendous value to their work. 

Advice your team members to use this meeting room for discussions that they need to have on their projects, or on other work related activities. Thus, they don’t disturb other colleagues and they keep their conversations private. 

Communication Barriers

Some of the communication barriers were already touch before. Being aware of the barriers that intervene in our communication help us to avoid them and have a better communication. 

1.

External factors that distract our attention

Discussing in a place were are other people, or where are background noises, make the communication more difficult.

2.

Internal factors that distract our attention

Internal factors, like our emotional state can prevent us from receiving the message and understanding it. As I mentioned earlier, feelings like angry, frustration, revolt, that can appear when a person is criticised or when things don’t go as expected, may block his capacity to focus on what is happening externally. Also, when a person is strongly preoccupied by a situation or a problem, can have difficulties to give all his attention to the person who is speaking with him.

That’s way, it’s best to delay our discussions, if we can, when this is the situation. When we are angry or upset, most probably we will not give our best responses and can generate conflicts. Don’t send that e-mail when you are angry, don’t go and speak with that person who upset you right away. Wait till you calm down and then think what you’ll do. 

3.

Language that is not understood

The language that the parties involved in the conversation use can be a barrier when a part uses words or concepts that are not understood by the other party. 

For example, do you always understand what your accountant says? Does she explain the specialized terms that she is using? Or do you always understand what the person who fixes your computer says what was the problem?

Different interpretations of the words that are used in a conversation will create misunderstandings. Check if you are on the same page with the person you are talking to. Ask for details if you are not sure what the other person understands through different words.

4.

Status barriers

Different levels of status can produce barriers in communication when the distance between these levels is large and when the company’s culture doesn’t support a free flow of  communication between them. Most of the companies with small number of employees will not have this issue because they don’t have many hierarchical levels, but a leader who is hard to approach will create this barrier. 

As mentioned earlier, make sure that your employees know that they can talk with you when they need something and give them the ways in which they can do that.

5.

Stereotypes and labels

Our stereotypes about other members of the team is a barrier in communication. We may form an opinion of a person based on the gender, religion, age, nationality etc. Then we filter our communication based on these preconceptions we have about them. 

Also, the labels that we put on different people will affect our communication with them. If we think that a person is stupid we will not bother to explain things to him. Or if we think that a person is a trouble maker we will avoid that person.

One major problem is that when we put labels, we set some expectations, to which they may respond. If I don’t explain to the person who I think that is not smart enough to understand my explanations why to do something, that person will not understand my reasons and he will act without actually understand why he is doing that, situation that create the right context for him to make mistakes and enhance my believe that he is not so smart. 

We all know examples and experiments from educational sytem where children that were labelled as good students had good results and those who were labelled as poor students had low results, low grades.

So, think if you developed some beliefs about your team members without realizing that falls in this category. Eliminate them and you’ll communicate differently and you’ll set different expectations for this person.

Also, see if some of your team members have stereotypes or labels towards certain members and help them to become aware of these and their consequences. 

Key Points:

1. Why effective communication is important and how it impacts the company
2. Best Practices for effective communication
3. Communication barriers

Let me know what are your thoughts about effective employee communication. If you have questions about this post I’ll be happy to answer them at: daniela.tancau@improvework.ro

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