3 Lessons for Managers

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As managers, most problems stem from what you don’t say, what you say, and how you say it.  Here are three (3) important lessons to help you deal with these inevitable communication issues that take place within your team.

1. What You Don’t Say

Have you considered how what you don’t say can affect the performance of your staff? Lack of clarity can exist when expectations suddenly change, goals aren’t defined, the team’s direction isn’t clear, or the specific results that you want were not communicated well. People don’t know how to get where you want them to be if you don’t tell them.

Clarity also includes omissions – what you don’t say – such as not communicating the “why” or rationale behind decisions. Depending on the decision, a lack of “why” can generate unproductive anxiety and resistance. Employees begin to fill in cracks of information with their own perceptions and suspicions. People may believe that you don’t trust them, or rather, they lose trust in you.

Omissions can also occur in other daily interactions – when you don’t say thank you, give praise, say hello each day, or take an interest in your team. People quickly jump to conclusions that they aren’t appreciated, liked, or supported.

2. What You Say

What you say to your team is significant. The language you choose – its appropriateness, honesty, specificity, and professionalism – can send a variety of messages. It can be the difference in whether an employee perceives their work environment to be hostile or supportive, so tread carefully with the words you choose.

For example, we may feel the need to direct or dictate all the answers to ensure that our agendas or results get met.  But dictating makes people feel powerless and may send the message that you don’t think they are smart or talented enough to come up with the solutions themselves. Coaching, however, helps employees learn how to solve problems and manage themselves by using questions to guide employees through problems and find their own answers.

Also, saying too much can damage our effectiveness. Dominating conversation and not asking for employees’ feedback or input or considering their points of view are all ways we may say too much. We may send the message that their opinions and ideas don’t matter, or that we value our own views more than theirs.

Additionally, avoid emotional language and dishonesty – two issues that get many managers in trouble. Inevitably, you’ll find yourself in a conversation with an employee and may be tempted to get angry or use inappropriate language to convey your viewpoint. Maintain a calm demeanor and deal with the issue constructively. Finally, while some lies and partial truths may have good intentions and you may believe that you are protecting the employee, lying can have devastating consequences for your credibility as a manager. Don’t tell employees one thing, then do another. You’ll lose the trust you need to get things done and ruin your relationships in the process.

3. How You Say It

As a manager, problems frequently stem not from what you said, but how you said it. Consider how your non-verbals (body language, tone, emotion, eye contact, etc.), communication style, and level of interest affects your team’s productivity and performance. Did your impatient or intimidating tone, poor attitude, silent treatment, closed-off body language, or frequently closed door send negative messages to your team?  Did you listen well to your employee or did you ignore their viewpoint? Did your non-verbals match the message you were trying to send? Also, be aware of your attitude’s impact on your team: bad day for you, bad day for them. Moods have been found to influence productivity, morale, and engagement.

Similarly, the communication styles of your team are likely diverse.  One employee may respond well to oral directions, while another may need written directions or process diagrams. One-size does not fit all when it comes to communicating with your employees so either cater to the styles of your team by responding differently with each individual or communicate the same information using different forms (such as an email and in-person meeting). If you don’t know the style of your team, ask them about their preferred communication preferences or observe how they respond to different forms of communication. But always remember to handle sensitive issues in-person.

Great managers know that solid communication practices can make or break their team’s performance and their relationships with their team members, so always consider what you say, what you don’t say, and how you say it.

Additional Resources

ERC Supervisory Training

Training for Communication Skills ERC offers and specializes in a variety of training in communication and management/ supervisory topics. Many of these topics are available in our Workplace Center and on-site, customized to your organization’s needs. For more information about these offerings, please contact ckutsko@yourerc.com.