Posted by Sandy Yu on 7.18.2019
Books, courses, and training programs can all teach you about workplace communication, but often it’s employees who are the best teachers.
Every workplace is different, and you won’t know what your employees want and need from communication until you’re actually working with and listening to them.
That’s why we reached out to business leaders and asked them to share the best communication lessons they’ve learned from their employees so far. Here’s what five of them had to share:
It's crucial to know your audience. I've learned from my employees the importance of understanding each individual's needs and tailoring my workplace communication accordingly. Some prefer more frequent informal feedback and updates, while others are content with periodic meetings.
After learning that one of my employees didn't want to bother me outside of scheduled meetings for fear of interrupting me, I've gone out of my way to ensure my team knows my door is always open. I also provide my employees with a number of options for communicating with me -- face-to-face, email, Slack, or phone.
I try to set the tone upfront with one rule, when in doubt over-communicate. Especially at the beginning of the project do not make assumptions of what people from different groups want or know, just ask or send an email. It will save you a lot of time, money, and frustration down the road.
Be a good listener and make sure you hear others, their hopes, frustrations, and intentions. If the lines of communication are open and everyone makes an effort to listen and be heard then collaboration will happen naturally and the information will flow.
People can easily go back on a verbal promise; just because they say they’re going to do something doesn’t necessarily mean they actually will. When a commitment is made verbally, it is too easy for those involved to “forget” about that discussion or lie and say that they never agreed to it.
Whether it just be meeting minutes, or a reminder to complete a task, if you need someone to do something, make sure you put it in writing. The minutes of every meeting should be sent to all attendees via email to ensure that everyone follows up on their commitments. If you ask someone personally to do a job, send them an email immediately after your discussion to confirm exactly what needs doing by them and when it needs to get done.
The most enduring lesson – and the one that changed the way I communicate forever – was that my workplace communication style was getting in the way of the work. Employees told me I was too blunt, too demanding, and often dismissive. I didn’t think so – I was just a Type A with a strong drive to get things done and expected others to be that way too!
But my communication style lacked empathy and as a result was very counterproductive. Ironic, since my whole “git ‘er done” approach was an attempt to be more fruitful! It took guts for my employees to stand up to me in this way. That courage was not lost on me. If it were not for those brave employees, I’d probably still be offending people at every turn!
I find that employees are more likely to engage in open conversations if they find you to be approachable and honest in your workplace communication. I do this by ensuring I meet with all direct reports weekly and also holding skip-level check-ins on a monthly basis. However, in order to ensure these meetings feel like a safe space, you need to be vulnerable and display candor.
As the relationship begins to form, ask your employees for their input to encourage their voice to be heard. If an employee shows a lot of courage in providing candid feedback, I make sure to express genuine appreciation, acknowledge that it may have been difficult, and thank them and explain how their insight will help move things in a positive direction.