Effective communication is critical to running a good business. However, communicating well is easier said than done. Too many times communication can be handled badly in businesses, leading to problems that never needed to occur. There are right and wrong ways to communicate different kinds of messages to your staff, and it is important to learn how to do this.
For example, if you are communicating a difficult change to your team that may involve layoffs, a group email is probably not the best way. Nor may this be the best way to communicate new procedures. Sometimes, in situations such as these, greater explanation is needed than can be provided in a written communication, so a group discussion is a better way to go. Conversely, you don’t need to have a team meeting to communicate a very simple, straightforward message to your employees. In this instance, an email will suffice. Also, as a manager of people at times you will need to give constructive feedback to your staff. This is not appropriate if done in a group setting as it will lead to anger and resentment, and not just on the part of the person receiving the feedback.
It’s not just the form of communication that you choose, but also the words are important. The tone that you take can lead individuals to have a different perception of the communication than you intended. Also, communication is a two-way street. You need to be open to listening to your employees and taking on board what they have to say, when it is appropriate to do so.
How to open up communication in your organization
There are a number of ways to open up communication in your organization. Here are seven of the most important:
Listening is one of the most fundamental components of good communication in organizations. Many managers think that they listen, when actually they do not. Instead they quickly dismiss ideas, suggestions and comments without giving them a second thought. If this is you, you need to adapt your communication skills so that you do start listening to your team.
There are many reasons that listening is important. One of the main ones is the understanding of the view point of others. Not everyone will always share your point of view. You need to be able to understand why, so that you can move your business forward.
Because your staff probably work in more frontline roles than you, they may have insights that you don’t, especially with regard to customer service, or improving of systems or procedures. Listen to their suggestions for improvement. Also, if a decision that you have made is having an effect on motivation, listen to the reasons for this. They may not be valid, but then again, there may be something that you can do to improve the way that your team feels.
More minds working together can achieve greater things. If your staff are telling you something it is because they believe it is important. Listening to them and acting on the information that they provide you with, or taking up their ideas can be extremely beneficial for your business. Don’t just think that because you are the boss, your ideas are somehow “better”. Perhaps in most cases they are, but it still does not hurt to listen to what your team have to say. They might just have come up with a winning idea for moving your business forward, creating more revenue or saving money, or providing a better customer experience.
- Share information
Sometimes managers have a tendency to not share information with their teams. At times, it can be inappropriate to share certain information, but on the whole sharing information with your employees is a good thing, as it helps to open up communication and understanding in your organization.
For instance, one area that managers can be secretive about is relating to how the business is doing and figures relating to this. While your team maybe does not need every single detail, a high level overview can go a long way towards their understanding of why particular tasks, activities and objectives are important, which in turn helps them to better perform their roles, or to be able to prioritize their work more appropriately.
- Be open to ideas and suggestions from your team
If your staff are motivated, chances are that they will have lots of ideas and suggestions for how the business can run better and improvements that could be made. You need to make sure that your business is one where these ideas are welcomed and acted upon where appropriate. Team meetings can be a good forum for staff to express ideas and suggestions. Allow open discussion of such ideas. If everyone thinks something is a good idea, chances are that it is and it should be explored further.
You can also have a “suggestions box” where staff can put their ideas as they think of them, and you can discuss the best suggestions at team meetings. You might even consider having some sort of reward system for staff who come up with great ideas for the business. This can be extremely motivating for some, and helps to cultivate a culture of ideas, continuous improvement and progressive action.
- Create a Never Blame Culture
A culture that has open communication is one that does not blame people when they make mistakes.
Many managers make the mistake of looking for someone to blame when a problem occurs. This leads to problems because when individuals think that they will be blamed for their mistakes they are more likely to hide them, or not tell the truth about what happened. Once this happens, it then becomes difficult to get the bottom of why a problem occurred and put processes in place to prevent that problem from happening again.
As a manager you need to be very wary of making a situation seem as if someone is being blamed. Instead you need to try to find out why an issue happened, so that you can take measures to improve things. This might include extra training, new processes or improved systems. It can be very hard to do this if you are feeling angry about a situation that has occurred—if a person has made a costly mistake for the company.
Once again, not blaming comes down to having good listening skills. You need to listen to what your team have to say and act on it appropriately. Your team need to feel that they can be open with you about what goes on and problems that happen. Instead of asking,
“Who did that?”
“Why do you think that happened?” and “What can we do to prevent that happening again?”
These questions will be more likely to get the kinds of answers that you need in order to be able to improve your business.
Only with an open, honest and transparent working environment can you continue to improve what you do every day, making your business better all of the time.
- Understand Perceptions vary from person to person
Be aware that perceptions that people have vary greatly from individual to individual. You can say something and it may be interpreted slightly differently by every single person in the room. You will be surprised by the differences between the perceptions. Even if you are communicating something that you believe can only be perceived positively, someone in your team might find something in the communication that they believe to be negative and latch onto that.
You can guard against this happening to some degree, by keeping your communications simple, straightforward and to the point. Don’t cloud communications with jargon for the sake of it. You can also invite the team to ask questions, so that they can clarify, and better understand the message that you are trying to communicate. All of these actions can limit the degree of variation of perceptions that you will encounter. They will not completely avoid the problem though.
Aside from this, you just need to be aware that people will perceive what you say differently than you intended them to at times. You need to be sensitive to this fact, and try to address misunderstandings with individuals when you think they have happened.
- Non-verbal communication
Learn to recognize the non-verbal communication that goes on in your team and between individuals. You need to learn important body language, and look out for the following behaviors in individuals:
Crossed arms – indicates either boredom or defensiveness.
Covered mouth – often means uncertainty.
Averted eyes – this can indicate feeling uncomfortable, or guilty about something.
Raised finger – a polite indication that a person wants to ask a question.
Steepling – creating a steeple with the fingers of the hand shows superiority.
Being aware of these different types of behavior (among others) can give you an indication of what people are thinking and feeling about a particular communication without them actually saying anything. This can give you an insight of how to move forward with a particular communication, or the kinds of things that you might need to say, so that the person or people that you are communicating with understand the message that you are trying to convey.
- Encourage Feedback and Take Action
Giving feedback is an important communication type that as a manager you need to be able to handle effectively. Both positive and constructive feedback is essential for the effective running of your business.
Positive feedback is important because it reinforces the good work that your staff do. It makes individuals feel that they have achieved something good. Not giving positive feedback when your employees have done a good job may start making them feel de-motivated.
Constructive feedback is also highly important. If somebody does not know that they are not doing something well, then they cannot improve. Opening up this type of communication in your organization is essential. You need to foster an atmosphere where all employees (yourself included) are open to receiving constructive feedback about the work that they have done, or the way in which they have behaved. A couple of tips for constructive feedback:
Constructive feedback can be sandwiched between two pieces of positive feedback. You do have to make sure that the constructive message is not lost if you do that though. The benefit of sandwiching the feedback is that the person takes it on board, because you are telling them about the good things that they did at the same time, so they feel valued.
Instead of just telling the person the feedback, you can get them to come to the same conclusion themselves by asking them questions such as, “Do you think that you handled that situation effectively?” This prompts the person to think about the way that they behaved and come up with solutions or better ways of working for themselves.
Also, you should be open to receiving “upward feedback,” that is, when your employees give you feedback about something that you did and how they feel that it could have been handled better. If you listen to this type of feedback, you will become a better manager, as you will be able to grow and develop your leadership skills by listening to your staff.
Communication in organizations can be a huge challenge, but there are ways in which you can prevent common problems from occurring. One of the biggest and most important things that you can do is make sure that you listen to your team and take their ideas and suggestions on board when these are valid. Additionally, you need to consider your communication style, understand what type of approach is suitable for different kinds of situations, and adapt the communication accordingly.
Understanding that perceptions vary from person to person, and that body language may tell you more than what a person is actually saying, or it may be telling you a different story entirely. Always be open and transparent with staff, sharing as much information as you can, and not blaming people for mistakes that occur. Instead, work on continually improving your business with your staff on side, by communicating well with them.