The Friday after Thanksgiving has, over the years, become a day of holiday decorating at our house which includes hauling out the Christmas decorations and putting up our tree. This year, we also decided that it was the perfect time to re-arrange the living room, make plans to freshen up the paint and refinish the floors. I also feel a strong longing to pick up the phone and re-connect with old friends and lost family members.
But inevitably, within a few days, everyday life creeps back in and those plans and desires never seem to materialize. Today’s blog topic can fall into that category. We all know that communication is important. In fact, it can enhance or destroy relationships. Plenty of studies indicate that an employee’s relationship with his/her immediate supervisor is critical to that employee’s happiness on the job and desire to stay at the organization. A recent BLR survey suggests that 46% of new hires will leave during the first year of employment at a high cost to organizations. If communication plays a big part in our success as supervisors and managers, what can we do to improve? We could start by avoiding these 12 communications blunders:
1. We have plenty of time to connect; I don’t need a schedule to make it happen. Just like my recent holiday plans, if you fail to commit and schedule time, connecting with your employees may not happen. There are too many tasks to do and fires to be put out. We get caught in our habits and regular schedules, and don’t like to make changes. In our Leadership training, we suggest that supervisors adopt a chart called “A Week in the Life Of…” and populate it with scheduled times to connect with direct reports. Furthermore, give these appointments as much importance as any other customer appointment in your schedule and don’t ignore them or compromise your time when something else comes up. Don’t wait until the exit interview to find out about problems and why your employees are unhappy on the job.
2. The Non-Communicator. Some supervisors and managers fall into this category. Just as you might have absentee supervisors and managers, these are the absentee communicators. Some think that communication is a “soft” skill, and they fail to see its importance. Or, some are so introverted that they find it very difficult to communicate at all – preferring to work alone and let other channels or people do the communicating for them. Sadly, I am also reminded that 90% of managers are fired, not for their lack of job knowledge or competence, but for their lack of interpersonal skills. Communication is required for success on the job and for those who have strived to change the way they communicate, understand that it is an extremely “hard” skill. Those managers that dedicate themselves to making it a priority, even when they don’t want to, are most successful. Don’t be lulled into thinking you don’t need to build skill in communicating. Add it as a professional goal and regularly assess your communication with others and make improvements. I also suggest reading: Introverts: How You Can Be Value-Added In an Extraverted World.
3. You are on a “need to know” basis. Some supervisors and managers think that filtering information and presenting only that which he/she deems is important is helping the information flow. More often than not, it only builds distrust for management. Open communication and transparency are key elements in building a strong team and getting at good solutions to problems. If it can be shared, share it. I would recommend reading The Effect of Trust on Speed and Cost for further development.
4. The Late Communicator. Some supervisors might have a desire to communicate but are always delivering “yesterday’s” news. If the faces of your staff look bored and dis-interested when you share new info or those organizational emails get stuck in your inbox for weeks, you may be a late communicator. I love the new 4G commercials where it’s all about who gets the information first and acts on it. Silly as they may seem, information is power and supervisors/managers need to be the ones giving the breaking news – talking about what’s to be done next and how it will impact the department or organization. Be the one your staff runs to for the real deal, not the grapevine.
5. It’s all about me. Some supervisors and managers make communication a priority, but are more interested in communicating about themselves and their latest projects, than listening to others. Some just miss the opportunity to learn about how the employee feels about his/her job. The possibility of turning around a situation is right there before them, if they would only learn to listen.
6. Let’s keep it upbeat. Other supervisors and managers avoid talking about the reality of any situation when it is less than positive. Hoping that the problems will go away or resolve themselves, they lose credibility by delaying or never delivering any bad news. Again, strong leaders recognize that their role is not always the cheerleader and sometimes means being the first to bring up and address tough situations, and encourage dialogue among staff.
7. If I could just tell them what is really going on, it would fix everything. The downside of being a good listener as a supervisor/manager is the fact that you hear about everything and everyone. Sometimes this can be a burden when you have information that you know would resolve a conflict or change a situation because someone has told you something in confidence. It becomes very tempting to share. Nothing will undermine a supervisor and shut down the communication flow more quickly than when he or she divulges any information that should have been confidential. The exception to this rule, of course, is always any incident of sexual or general harassment or other major policy infringement. Clearly, the supervisor then informs the employee that he or she needs to bring this information to Human Resources or a designated individual in confidence, not other employees or peers. It’s typically not the “big” news that causes problems, but information that the deliverer thought was shared in private and yet, the supervisor didn’t see the importance of keeping it that way.
8. Let me explain; you just don’t have the right facts. Getting defensive when an employee approaches you with feedback or worse yet, when you approach someone to talk about a problem, will ricochet throughout the department and shut down communication. Remember the feedback rules: don’t kill the messenger; see feedback as a gift and separate the feedback from doing something about it. Where needed, asking good questions to gain clarity and getting examples will help to weed out the invalid and vague comments from the valid feedback. Seeking to encourage communication will open the door to all kinds of criticism – deciding ahead of time strategies that will help you remain calm and neutral will be invaluable to you when the moment presents itself. If this is an area of focus for you in 2012, I would recommend reading Three Crucial Rules When Receiving Feedback.
9. We don’t need a communication protocol. Some supervisors and managers fail to see the importance of having a communication plan. I’d suggest getting a team together to look at the current state of the communication in the organization or department. Consider all kinds of feedback methods from surveys to staff meetings to gather reliable and meaningful data. Then, determine if a communication plan is needed.
10. Everyone got the information, didn’t they? Here the communication plan exists but it doesn’t do its job – some folks are either left out of the loop or are at the bottom of the communication list. I worked with one organization that had a communication chain and people read into their importance to the organization by how high they were placed on the chain. Consider using all types of communication methods and technologies that are available, including social media, cell phones and texts, and e-mail blasts. Gear your communication plan to your staff’s resources and abilities. Today’s workplace is just-in-time information driven and your communication plan needs to be current and multi-dimensional.
11. It’s just easier if I make the communication system. Here the supervisor and manager not only champions the goal, but also determines the approach. Then he or she wonders, “Why does everyone resist using the system or always complain about it?” Again, involving all levels of the organization in teamwork to devise the system will lend itself to buy-in and ultimately, the development of a better system that gets used and meets the goal.
12. I have one way of communicating. I just recently designed a session around the MBTI and Communication. As I was reading about my own type, I could see how it easy it was for me to get stuck in my communication preference. As an Introvert, I can rely too heavily on e-mail communication and forget to pick up the phone (or walk into the next room, even). This can be another area of communication blindness for supervisors and managers. It’s important to look at your staff and their preferences for introversion or extraversion and gear your communication method to what works best for them, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone.
If I went for a baker’s dozen, I’d add a note about situational communication. Any time can be the right time to beef up your communication – going for more than less – to start, so that you can learn about the communication needs and preferences of your staff. Once you have determined those needs, your communication should be tailored to meet them. Yes, it may mean more effort up front and stopping to think about how you are conveying the message before you give it. Consider December as the perfect month to evaluate your own communication with your staff and others, and its effectiveness.
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Effective Communication Skills: Toning Down Your Aggressiveness adn Getting Others to Buy Your Idea