I recently completed a round of frontline management training for a manufacturer that explored the concept of effective communication. After our two-hour workshop, the managers were surprised at just how difficult effective communication can be.
Most people think effective communication is simply lining up the three primary parts of communication – body language, tone, and the actual words we speak. For example, our words may say, “I’d love to hear your story,” but when we keep checking our smartphone for the latest text or Facebook status, well, we’re sending conflicting messages. But lining up our gestures, tone, and words is just one part of effective communication.
Before we even speak a specific message, managers must lay the foundation of effective communication. This foundation consists of five parts:
- Respect: recognize employees as individuals and important.
- Empathy: understand and share the feelings of the employees.
- Reliability: keep a promise and do what you say you’ll do.
- Responsiveness: willingness to help employees promptly.
- Assurance: confidence that an employee’s issue will be resolved.
Building this communication foundation takes time and energy. When demonstrated regularly, managers will have a strong platform and starting point for effective communication.
Supporting your words, tone, and gestures are four keys to supercharging your communication:
- A positive attitude: your employees (and people in general) are more likely
to listen to you if you consistently display a positive attitude.
- Courtesy: simple things such as saying “Thank you” and offering small favors
will make employees more engaged with you and with their work.
- Questions: asking good questions, particularly being interested in your
employees and finding out what makes them tick, will help you develop
deep, meaningful work relationships.
- Listen: leave the smartphone in your pocket or on your desk, look people
in the eye, and really listen to what they say – and don’t say!
With this foundation and these four pillars in place, you are ready to be an effective communicator. Now, select your words purposefully, speak clearly with the right tone and volume, and lean into the conversation. Do all of this and you’ll be considered a great communicator.
One item, however, will bring your communication “house” crashing down. Do your everyday actions support your messages? Do you “practice what you preach” or do your “actions speak louder than your words”, telling a different story?
As a leader you may be responsive, you may keep your word, ask great questions, and choose just the right word for the right situation. If, however, your actions go against your message, you may be leading but when you turn around, no one is following.
How might this play out in the workplace? If you manage a team and expect everyone to start their shift on time or limit their breaks to exactly 15 minutes yet you are regularly late or consistently extend your breaks an extra 5 or 10 minutes, what are you communicating? Your words and tone may say, “Being on time is key to our success.” Your actions, though, are saying just the opposite. Worse, you are telling your team that rules don’t apply to you, that you work by a different standard. Do you think you’ll be leading a high performing team? Of course not.
Communication is easy. Effective communication is difficult. It’s more than just throwing out a few words. If you want to be a great communicator, start building your foundation, show up every day with a smile, be genuinely interested in your team, and say thanks.
Above all, make sure your actions say, “’we’re all in this together.”
Darren K. Ford
I've enjoyed a great career. Worked in many different industries with great coworkers and customers. I talk to a lot of people while drinking a lot of coffee. I read constantly. From all of this, I have much to say.