Communication is something we do reflexively — like breathing. We talk to our spouses, kids and friends without giving much thought to how we’re doing it.
It might seem easy, but communicating effectively actually takes quite a bit of finesse. Choosing the right words, listening with our minds instead of just our ears, and getting our message across are skills that we all need to work on.
At home and in social settings, miscommunication can lead to arguments. In the workplace, the repercussions can be far more serious. Poor productivity, unmotivated employees — even lawsuits — can result from communication breakdowns at the office.
To improve communication within your team and throughout your entire company, you need to implement a few easy but important changes to your corporate philosophy and practice.
In this article, you’ll learn some of the tips management experts use to improve communication. You’ll also see how changing your communication strategy can lead to real improvements in employee motivation, productivity and profitability.
Handle Conflicts with Diplomacy
We communicate in different ways to different people, but we have to be very careful about the way we communicate at work.
Put a group of different personalities in the same room for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, add the stress of multiple deadlines, and you’ve got a recipe for conflict. No matter how well intentioned and intellectually compatible the group of people you’ve hired may be, inevitably you’re going to have squabbles over who jammed up the copier or accidentally deleted a co-worker’s file.
Most minor issues will blow over on their own, but a few can turn into major disputes. Some office arguments can be serious enough to prompt legal action.
To prevent small conflicts from exploding into major crises, nip issues in the bud right away. Let employees know from the start that your door is always open. Encourage them to come to you by creating a safe environment in which they feel comfortable honestly and openly voicing their frustrations. All conversations held in your office should remain completely confidential.
When you respond to conflicts, do so with an open mind and a nonjudgmental approach. That means absolutely no personal attacks. By asking questions and really listening to the responses so you understand how each person in the dispute feels, you can help the two parties reach a resolution that’s acceptable to everyone. Finally, if company policies are to blame for the issues, go to management and suggest some permanent policy changes.
Give good feedback.
No employee wants to exist in a vacuum. Whether they’re working tirelessly to get projects done or slacking off, your workers need to know that you recognize and appreciate their efforts — or expect them to work harder.
You don’t have to hold regular meetings to share feedback, although that’s one way to do it. There are many other ways to let your employees know what you’re thinking — through e-mail, phone calls, or a brief status update a couple of mornings a week.
When you do give feedback, make sure it’s as clear and detailed as possible. Try to offer solutions if there is a problem. For example, don’t just say, “You aren’t putting in enough effort.” Instead say, “When you are late 3 weeks in a row filing your budget reports, it gives me the sense that you don’t have enough time invested in your accounting procedures. Can you let me know why you’ve been late and how we might help you get back on track with these reports?”
Don’t forget to give positive feedback, too. Praise and recognition make employees feel important, which motivates them further. Take your team out to lunch to celebrate a sales milestone, get key employees gift certificates to say thanks for a job well done, or just tell them, “You did a great job on that presentation. Good work.”
Take your emotions out of the equation
You try to promote professionalism at the office, but that’s not always easy to do when so many different personalities converge in such a small space.
Sometimes work discussions can turn into personal attacks. When an employee is starting to get under your skin, take your emotions out of the equation. Instead, take a deep breath, count to 10 and respond in a calm, unemotional way.
When you do respond, don’t make it personal. For example, instead of saying, “You did a terrible job putting together that sales presentation!” try, “Here are a few points I think you need to work on that will really add to what you’ve already written,” or “I’m having some trouble understanding what you’re trying to get across in this presentation. Can you please explain it to me?”
Also, make sure the person on the receiving end isn’t taking your comments the wrong way. Everyone views the world within his or her own emotional framework. No matter now innocent your intentions, they can be misconstrued.
Ask for clarification at the end of conversations to make sure you and your employee are on the same page. You might say, “My intention in talking about your recent absences is to make sure everything is okay with your job and your health, and to see what we can do together to improve the situation. How do you feel about the issues we’ve discussed?”
Make work fun!
Who said a 9-to-5 job has to be drudgery? It doesn’t matter whether you’re producing movies or computer chips, the work day can be as fun and exciting as your company wants to make it.
If you visit certain offices, on any given afternoon, you might find employees racing paper airplanes in the atrium or relaxing in recliners and listening to the soothing sounds of the ocean in the company’s “rejuvenation station.” Other companies have set aside a break area for their employees to “hang out,” or bring in an ice cream truck once a month.
You don’t have to come up with these kinds of creative ideas yourself. There are companies that specialize in coming up with and implementing employee perks that will do all the work for you.
Giving employees as little as 15 minutes a day to cut loose can make them much more appreciative — and productive — when they do need to put their noses to the grindstone.