If you are an owner manager/leader of a small management team there can be a tendency to assume that communication between yourself and those who report to you is good, simply because you talk to each other on a daily basis. It might be worthwhile to test this assumption.What messages are you sending out by the way in which you communicate with your direct reports?
Observe your behaviour over the next few weeks and see whether you need to make some changes. Do any of the following common examples of ineffective practice when it comes to communication by key decision makers apply to you ?
1.I am the boss. If your view of communication is telling others what to do it will lead to disengagement and under performance. The overuse of a ‘telling’ style will block upward communication and thereby deny you access to important information about your business. Remember that it may not be your intention to come across in this way but it may be the behaviour that others see and to which they respond.
2. I communicate this way, so get used to it. You may well have a preferred communication style but it may not work for everyone. You may prefer written communication but others may respond better to, for example, informal chats or scheduled meetings. You need to consider carefully how best to use phone, text, social media, Skype etc mindful of the preferences of those you engage with and are trying to influence. Remember it is the responsibility of those doing the communicating to get the message across.
3. I do the talking. Because you are the boss it is easy for you to dominate conversation by engaging in monologues, but this is not communication. People will stop listening to you after a while. It is not possible to learn without inviting contributions from others. Ask open questions and spend 80% of the time listening during engagements with others.
4. I communicate on a need to know basis. If you think or behave like this you run the risk of decisions being taken by your employees without all the facts, as it is very difficult to determine what others ‘need to know.’ Also, it is motivating for others to know the big picture of which they are a part even if their roles are restricted to certain activities.
5. I believe that communications happens naturally. Wrong ! It is hard work and requires an investment of time and energy on an ongoing basis. It is not possible to have an aligned management team with everyone is pulling in the same direction, without relentless communication.
6. I don’t have time for meetings. This means that you don’t value or see the need for regular scheduled team meetings. More common is that meetings are scheduled but then don’t happen because there is ‘nothing to talk about’ ( rarely the case) or some ‘urgent’ business gets in the way. Remember meetings do not have to be any longer than is necessary to discuss the business of the day, but effective managers rarely cancel the regular weekly team meeting.
7. I believe in flexible agendas. If you call a meeting without an agreed agenda, or you don’t stick to the agenda there is a danger that the meeting will become a talking shop which is a waste of everyone’s time. Of course, there can be space for AOB following discussion of the scheduled agenda.
8. I am a poor listener. Few will admit to this. Can you say that you actively encourage contributions from others, take the time to question them on their ideas (so you understand fully what they are suggesting), and summarise/play back what you think is being said ? Do you show a tolerance for listening to and actively considering views that are different to your own? Remember taking the time to listen to others views does not imply that you have to agree with what they say or act on their recommendations. If your team think you are a poor listener they will limit what they tell you on the basis that ‘there is no point’.
9. I expect people to perform. It is reasonable to expect performance in accordance with agreed objectives but things don’t always go according to plan. You need to create a safe environment for others to communicate bad news, so that there is early escalation of issues, essential to limiting the damage. Public criticism of others for mistakes should be avoided at all costs and good performance should always be acknowledged.
10. Behave as I say, not as I do. This will not happen. As the key decision maker you set the standards in the business by your behaviours. If you want to create an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust in the organisation you need to temper your language, be open and honest in your communications, and avoid hidden agendas.
It is easy to sign up to best practice when it comes to communication, but walking the talk requires practice, self observation and ongoing commitment.