“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“I never got that memo.”
“I told you, that’s not the way that I want it done.”
These are just a few variants of a common theme that runs through a large number of organizations.
It is called a lack of communication.
From emails that get lost in cyberspace to one-on-one interactions that get lost because of poor non-verbal cues, lack of communication in the workplace diminishes the performance of companies that should do much better. Communicating effectively is the key to developing and maintaining strong professional and personal relationships.
A Watson Wyatt study revealed businesses that communicate effectively are 50 percent more likely to experience lower than industry average employee turnover rates. Although every organization has communication issues at times, your company can minimize those issues by learning how to keep the communication strong with your team.
First Things First
You might have heard this classic question: “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” The question has special relevance for establishing a consistent pattern of strong communication in the workplace. The first thing that should matter is to develop a strong rapport with the members of your team and then encourage team members to develop a strong rapport among themselves.
You do not have to get your employees to bond after work, but you do have to spend time building trust with them before you can expect them to open up about things like their goals, project statuses, and professional networking efforts.
They say action speaks louder than words. Show your team they can trust you and the lines of communication should become much clearer.
Mix It Up
Another worthy and timeless axiom is “It’s not what you say, but how you say it that matters.” This saying refers to the messenger, not the message itself. In the world of business communication, the messenger needs to create a balance among different types of communication styles.
Far too many managers get stuck in one type of communication routine, typically by holding group meetings that accomplish next to nothing except waste time. Mixing up how you communicate with your team should keep team members engaged. Instead of holding dull weekly office meetings, take the time to interact with different team members one-on-one.
One-on-one interactions are much more effective at enhancing communication in the workplace.
Speaking of one-on-one communication, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses to change the way they communicate with employees. Mostly gone are onsite meetings that Zoom has replaced with group and one-on-one interactions. Online meeting platforms should remain an integral part of your communication strategy long after the virus has disappeared.
However, technology should always be your friend when you want to communicate with your team, not just when a healthcare crisis spins out of control.
Emails represent an effective way to get the word out about an upcoming business meeting or special event. Everyone gets the electronic message at the same time, with the ability to respond with a question or two. Leverage technology to keep the communication strong with your team.
Listen to Your Team
Driving on a one-way street is the ticket to getting nowhere fast. Doing all the communicating at work is like driving on a dead-end street. You can lose your audience or worse, alienate some of the members of your team by dominating the conversation.
The skill called listening does not come easy for most of us. We think communication should be a verbal one-way street. However, communication in the workplace should be a two-way street when you start to listen.
Listening skills include giving eye contact, summarizing the points made by someone else, and not interrupting what someone has to say. Give your full attention, stop multitasking, and above all, do not access any of your electronic devices during a conversation with one or more members of your team.
Strong listening skills go a long way towards avoiding a common communication mistake: Making assumptions.
The “Why” is More Important than the “What”
As one of the leaders at work, you might think that communicating is all about telling your team what to do, what is about to happen, and what they need to accomplish before a certain deadline. Nonetheless, just as important is explaining why you want something done and why what you want to be done is in the best interest of your organization.
As children, we peppered our guardians with the “why” question every time they wanted us to do something. No, your team is not made up of kids, just professionals that want to know the reason(s) why they should follow you. Explaining why helps you build the level of trust that you need to achieve organizational goals.
Most of us have seen it: An overzealous manager cannot stop providing negative feedback. It is kind of like the annoying mosquito bite that never seems to go away. Feedback should also be a two-way street that does not include any direction-changing obstacles.
From performance reviews to spontaneous one-on-one interactions, offer both supportive and constructive feedback to ensure you balance out how you communicate with your team. Encourage your team members to provide feedback on things like project ideas, policy changes, and personnel assignments.
Open, consistent feedback reduces communication problems such as mixed signals and false assumptions.
Establish Clear Expectations
Nothing is more frustrating for a professional than to finish a project, only to have a manager waltz into a room and ask for a different outcome. Setting clear expectations before the start of a prolonged project is crucial to keep communication strong with your team, but it is not just prolonged projects that require clear expectations.
Following up on what you communicated during a one-on-one meeting or a department-wide virtual exchange is the key to ensuring you establish clear expectations. Muddled goals with no apparent end in sight can lead to disappointment from your team at best, and a mutiny in the workplace at worst.
Establishing clear expectations includes making every team member’s role in a group or a project clear from day one.
Open Door Policy
You have heard about a manager’s open-door policy. You know, the type of policy that declares the manager is always available to interact with an employee. Instead, the door stays closed throughout every workday and you rarely check your email inbox for messages from your team. A true open-door policy does not mean you have to keep your door open all day long. It simply means you need to be accessible to keep the communication strong with your team.
Strong Communication in the workplace is like the lubricant that keeps a massive machine operating flawlessly. All it takes is for leadership to create a work environment that fosters open, honest, and consistent communication.
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