Keeping the Lines of Communication Open

By James A. Baker
Author of The Anger Busting Workbook, newly released by Bayou Publishing

Founder: Baker Communications

As a manager, you probably already know that effective communication is a critical management skill. Without clear and timely feedback from management, employees have no direction and little motivation. Let your direct reports know how they’re doing. If their performance needs improvement, tell them. If they’re doing a great job, tell them. Believe it or not, they really want to know what you think! Remember that in order to have engaged employees, you must be an engaged manager. Never try to run your team on autopilot.
The flip side of this equation is listening to feedback from your reports. The first reaction of many managers to employee feedback is to become defensive or impatient. When your reports have something to tell you, try not to dismiss it as complaining, whining, passing the buck, or making excuses. Nobody knows what is happening on the ground better than your employees, and their input should be given due consideration.
Here are five keys to ensuring that your lines of communication stay open and that you and your employees stay clued in:

1. TIMELY: Give feedback immediately. Prompt, timely communication is far more effective than saving up your comments for the performance review. Let your employees know where they stand and where they need to go before they get too far down the path. They will appreciate the direction.
It’s not a bad idea to actively seek immediate feedback from employees, either. Find out what they think about how that meeting went, or ask how things are progressing on their current project. Not only will they appreciate your interest, but sometimes you will find out important information that would otherwise have been withheld ?#147; hopefully in time to do something about it.

2. EMPATHETIC: Don’t attack. If your employees feel jumped on they will only become defensive. They will be more focused on arguing with your points than listening to what you are saying. You want your feedback absorbed, not deflected. Assume that their intentions are good and frame your comments to reflect that belief. Likewise, if your employees have something to tell you, avoid becoming defensive yourself! Managing effectively often involves being sensitive to the emotions of others while mitigating your own emotional response. To the best of your ability, absorb their input rather than resisting it.

3. DETAILED: When giving feedback, be specific. An observation about a specific situation is far more useful to your employees than a vague generalization. Sweeping statements like “You aren’t trying hard enough” are not effective feedback. That statement is not actionable. The employee can do more with specifics: “You didn’t make quota last month; you needed to make five more calls each week.” Now the employee knows exactly what to do.
By the same token, ask for specifics when you’re getting information from your reports. Vague generalizations are not helpful to anyone. Get the details you need to act on the information.

4. GOAL-ORIENTED: Have a goal, and set a goal. There needs to be a purpose to your feedback besides making someone feel good or bad. If the feedback is positive, use it to reinforce behaviors and spur even greater performance. If your report isn’t making the grade, let them know where you want them to improve, how much, and how quickly. Give them something to shoot for.
When receiving feedback from others, ask for suggestions on how to make improvements. And of course, always be sure to set goals for yourself!

5. USEFUL: Keep in mind that the purpose of communication is to exchange information. Carefully consider what information would be most useful for your employees to have. What do they need to know in order to respond appropriately and act in ways that will benefit the business?
When receiving feedback, treat it as potentially useful information as well. What insights have you received? What can you take away from their input?
Remember to summarize and to question for understanding. When you’re the sender of the message, seek confirmation that they understand what you’re saying. As the receiver, paraphrase their comments and ask if your understanding is correct. Confirming a mutual understanding of the message is the key to ensuring that communication has actually taken place.

Communication is vitally important to the job of a manager and to fostering employee engagement. Build and maintain a team culture where feedback is openly given and received, and you will keep those important lines of communication open. Sharing information will help your team and your business operate more effectively, more efficiently, and more profitably.

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