December 7, 2021 | Originally posted August 22, 2018
I like the title of a John Maxwell book: Everyone Communicates, Few Connect. At its core, communication is simply the exchange of information. Leaders need to be superior at listening, sharing, and collaborating to master effective communication. When these three elements of communication work together, you truly connect with your people and things get done.
When communication doesn’t connect, a host of problems arise. Commitment and accountability begin to break down. Small issues fester and become bigger than necessary. Intentions get misunderstood causing upset and confusion. Your vision and goals can get off track, possibly derailing projects and teams.
Effective employee communication may seem impossible at times, but when you focus on listening, sharing, and collaborating, your chances of connecting the message to the audience go way up.
As a leader, communication isn’t just an aspect of your job; it IS your job. Let’s explore the three elements of effective communication that will dramatically improve your communication and connection with employees.
In this article:
- Listening – Skill #1
- Sharing – Skill #2
- Collaborating – Skill #3
- Bonus: People-Skills to Master for Effective Communication
Listening – Skill #1
I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a business where the staff said, “Stop with all the communication! It’s too much!” In fact, most employee surveys reflect how communication is a weak area that needs improvement—no matter how hard the leaders are working on it! When surveys reveal that communication is a weak area, staff may truly mean that they need more information from their leaders. However, staff may also be indicating that the leader isn’t listening.
Listening is the foundation of any good employer-employee relationship. To get in the posture of listening, create feedback loops. Feedback loops make it possible for your employees to share their questions, suggestions, concerns, and accomplishments with you. In turn, you give them your undivided attention with eye contact and body language that conveys you are interested. Rephrase what they’ve said until they feel understood (or as a friend of mine used to say, “Are you picking up what I’m laying down?”). This form of active listening closes the loop and makes them feel heard.
One-to-one meetings with your staff are an easy way to implement the feedback loop. This type of meeting gives you a chance to gain the most insight into each employee on the team. Meeting one-to-one with each team member allows time to connect authentically and relationally and to hear what they are working on. It also helps you learn where an obstacle might need to be removed, and allows you to reinforce the vision and current priorities. Plus, for the employee, there is just something validating about having face time with your boss. Get these meetings on your calendar every month and take good notes. They will come in handy at performance review time.
A good rule of thumb is to shoot for 80% of each conversation to be listening, and only 20% talking. For you Trekkies: Be a little more Captain Picard (lead by listening) than Captain Kirk (lead by talking).
Keep in mind, listening doesn’t only apply to your staff. Listen to your customers as well. They need to feel heard, too, even if it’s just acknowledging their frustration of an unavailable product or a less than stellar experience with your service. As a result, those customers will be back again buying your products or using your service.
Remember the Stephen Covey habit of highly successful people: Seek first to understand, then be understood.
Sharing – Skill #2
While one side of effective communication is listening, the other side is about sharing. What do employees want to hear from you?
- The company’s top goals and objectives, for one. Too many priorities mean no priorities, and nothing gets laser-focus. Employees need to know where the ship is headed.
- What success looks like so that they can produce more of it. More specifically, what is a win for them in their role? When the vision of success is crystal clear, it keeps them accountable to a high standard and gives them consistent expectations.
- Recognition for jobs well-done. Appreciation for good work is fuel in the tanks for a long journey on your team.
- Real-time information that is critical to job success today. Is inventory arriving? Is there an upcoming inspection to prepare for? When are performance reviews? Is the parking lot getting re-paved this week? Are schedule changes upcoming? There should be no surprises, especially about changes on the horizon.
You must assure communication cascades down through the organization. Decisions at the top sometimes don’t make it to those on the front line. General managers must receive messages and trickle them to supervisors. Supervisors must pass on information to those who interact with customers. If a decision will affect an employee’s job performance, they need to be in the loop.
Collaborating – Skill #3
For communication to be effective, it is essential to gather your team together, at all levels. When teams are inclusive, you get true collaboration going and you get the best answers to problems and opportunities as they arise. When decisions get made collaboratively, everyone on the team must understand how and when the details will be communicated.
Someone on the team must ask these three questions about every decision:
- Who needs to know?
- When will they be told (and in what order)?
- Who will tell them?
If “communication from leadership” scores low on your employee surveys, here are five questions to ask at your leadership team meeting or retreat to deal with this critical issue:
- What decisive steps can we take to improve our communication?
- How do we know that essential information is reaching everyone who would benefit from it?
- Do we have a process that allows employees at all levels to communicate on significant matters?
- How often are we present around the organization, talking to people we normally don’t see?
- If our employees are uncertain about our sincerity, how can we change their perception?
Regular meetings and one-to-ones are often the answer to at least one of those five questions. A leader who is too busy or non-confident may do whatever he/she can to get out of leading meetings. Especially when they are seen as a waste of time or if uncomfortable topics may come up. Dreading meetings is also a potential sign of a lack of trust. In some of the organizations I have worked with, I have seen employee complaints double or even triple when meetings are regularly canceled. However, when meeting schedules are honored, the staff feel a sense of peace and feel heard by their supervisors.
BONUS: People-Skills to Master for Effective Communication
At some point while in your position as a leader, you must use all of the “people skills” listed below. Invest in your personal growth by reflecting on how skilled you are in these areas. First, score yourself using a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) for each skill. Next, make an action plan to get better at your lowest scores:
- Conflict resolution
In summary, effective leaders are effective communicators. They excel at active listening, sharing information, and collaboration. There are four steps you can take to master the three effective communication skills. First, establishing feedback loops. Secondly, aim for a ratio of 80% listening to 20% talking. This will help you understand the information your team needs to hear. Third, collaborate with your team on decisions. Fourth, clearly state how and when details get shared. These are steps you can take to improve communication, build up your team, and increase your effectiveness in leading them.
Paul Casey is a professional speaker, leadership coach and author with more than 25 years of experience. He is an ACC-certified coach with the International Coaching Federation, a Master Trainer, and is a member of the National Speakers Association. Through his company, Growing Forward Services, Paul partners with his corporate and individual clients to transform their vision, their habits, and their lives. Paul is married to Lovely Laura, has two grown children named after state capitals, owns a cat named Sasha, and has lived in the Tri-Cities, WA, for over 20 years. For fun, he enjoys golfing, hiking, and bicycling—and orange slices—and he reads about 40 books per year. Contact Paul for coaching, team building or speaking engagements.