No matter what size company, industry, or the number of employees, there is a common, underlying issue that can affect all companies: ineffective communication.
What typically happens is a manager and direct report are unable to get on the same page about what is asked. Frequently, this is because a manager takes the communication approach of a one-way street, then wonders why the message was not received.
Consider instead that effective communication occurs when the receiver comprehends information that the sender intends to convey through a two-way process of reaching a mutual understanding.
Two-way communication is not only an exchange of information (encode-decode), but it also creates meaning and context to the information to create greater understanding.
To achieve this goal, you may need to consider tweaking your communication style or approach to ensure that your message is accurately received to inspire results from your direct reports.
Have a Team Focus to Implement These Communication Tips
Keep in mind that when implementing the following communication tips to achieve effective communication, you need to consider the content, the context, and the receiver.
Content is the actual words used as part of the message.
Context captures the elements that surround the content that influence its meaning.
Receiver is the person who needs to achieve an understanding of the content and context to create action.
Taking into account these elements of effective communication and having a team mindset will lead to better results. Now, consider these communication tips for leaders and managers.
1. Practice Two-Way Feedback
Stemming from the concept of two-way communication, the process of two-way feedback requires a commitment to see the message through to the receiver.
Without this commitment, managers often get frustrated when they deliver a message and their direct report does not take the appropriate action. “I don’t know why it was done wrong - I asked him to do it this way or I told her to follow up this way.”
Protip: A message has not been communicated successfully unless the receiver understands it completely.
The goal is not to treat your direct report like a child asking parental questions with the wrong tone, such as “do you understand?” or “have I made myself clear?” That will quickly cancel out the message.
There is an art to two-way feedback that requires being in the right mindset as the sender of the message and recognizing when the recipient is in the best thinking condition to receive the message.
Once you commit to this team-oriented style of communication and begin implementing two-way feedback in your conversations with direct reports, you will see a positive change leading to more desired outcomes.
2. Take Notes During a Conversation
Active listening is a critical element of effective communication. All of us are capable of hearing what a direct report says during a conversation, but not all of us are capable of listening to the feedback provided by the employee.
If your general idea of communicating with a direct report is to deliver the message, tune out the response, and wait for your direct report to stop talking, then you are unlikely to see the desired results from your message.
Your direct report’s response will give you clues about their level of understanding of the message. Perhaps the employee did not understand the tone they should take in an email response to a client. Or, they did not retain all of the details about a key project.
If you focus on your employee’s response to your message, you will be able to follow up to reinforce key aspects of the message that you want to be received. If you find yourself struggling to concentrate, take notes during the conversation.
Taking notes on what your direct report says in response to your message is also a great way to show commitment to your employee. This team-oriented approach shows that you value their response to your message, which will have long-lasting benefits building highly effective communication over time.
3. Focus on “Us” vs. “You and Me”
The fastest way to put the recipient on the defensive, cancel out the content, and misconstrue context is to make “you” or “me” statements during a conversation.
You apparently did not understand the assignment
I told you what you needed to say to the client
I can’t believe you didn’t think of how this will affect me when you wrote the email this way
These types of statements -- or similar accusatory questions -- are a product of one-way communication. When a manager focuses on him or herself, rather than the receiver, this often leads to confusion and conflict.
A commitment to two-way communication requires focusing on “us” instead of “you.” Notice how the conversation changes to achieve mutual understanding:
We apparently did not reach a shared agreement of the assignment
We did not convey the right message to the client
I did not consider how this email will reflect on both of us
This is a game-changing shift that will put you on the same team as your direct report to address an issue or solve a problem. You may have even felt yourself physically relax after reading the second list. This disarming approach will eliminate a sense of superiority from your managerial position and a defensive attitude from your direct report, leading to more desired outcomes.
4. Set Aside Your Preconceived Notions
Thinking about “we” instead of “you” requires an emotional shift. Another emotional shift is setting aside preconceived notions or personal biases about a direct report when they approach you for a conversation.
After working with an employee for any length of time, you will see patterns in their work habits and behavior -- either desirable or undesirable. You might even have someone in mind right now.
If the employee approaches you at 3:00 p.m. every Friday afternoon with the same complaint about their co-workers that has been building all week, then you are likely to tune them out before the words even come out of their mouth.
Our preconceived attitudes affect our ability to listen, and we become dismissive of the person or the message they are trying to convey. Challenge yourself to set aside your preconceived notion about the employee. Or, be creative in how you have the conversation:
Schedule a weekly one-on-one meeting to proactively check-in about their work environment.
Take the employee out to lunch to discuss the issue in a relaxed, informal setting.
Apply the second creative communication tip of taking notes during the conversation to help you actively listen.
5. Do Not Finish the Other Person’s Sentences
Here is your final challenge to achieve effective communication from a leadership position: do not finish the sentences of your direct reports during conversations.
There is a common misconception that finishing another person’s sentences is a form of effective communication. You are completely locked into what the person is saying that you know exactly what they are trying to say and you can say it for them, right?
In actuality, a core trait of an active listener is not finishing others’ sentences. Finishing a sentence is a shortcut; it’s a method to simulate listening without spending the energy required to achieve effective communication. Instead, consider this best practice:
Hear the content
Listen for meaning
Understand the context
Verify the content, meaning, and context by offering feedback
When you have achieved the first three elements, you should begin speaking. Again, you may need to tap into the second creative communication tip to take notes during the conversation so that you focus on a mutual understanding of the message instead of trying to finish your direct report’s sentence.