One of the top and most persistent complaints in organizations is poor communication. Unfortunately, communication is an expansive subject with many dimensions. It can be both frustrating and baffling for a leader when they work hard to increase their communication and still hear the complaint.
Consider that what is behind this complaint is about far more than increasing the frequency or quantity of communication. It has everything to do with communicating in a way that makes people feel they are being heard and that they matter. If you want to truly improve your communication you must connect with your employees by building a bridge from their world to yours, not the other way around.
Here are three things your employees wish you would say and do that can help you to build that bridge.
1. Know what matters
Just because something matters to you doesn’t mean it matters to your employees. If you want to connect and communicate better you must begin by learning what matters most to them. What matters to them about what your company or division does? What motivates and inspires them to do great work? What makes them proud? What are their most pressing concerns and problems on the job?
2. Talk with them vs. at them
The only way someone will own your vision as passionately as you is if you can help them connect with it emotionally, not just intellectually. The key is that they need to generate that connection, not just listen to you explain it. For someone to take ownership of anything it must be personal.
Presentations can be an effective way to facilitate awareness and understanding. In fact, a well-delivered presentation can leave people not only informed, but excited and optimistic. Yet it is the conversation with your employees about that future that the seeds of ownership and self-generation are planted. So be mindful of the tendency to talk at people and make a conscious effort to invest more time talking with them.
3. Provide clarity and certainty wherever and whenever you can
Many years ago there was a study done by a group of neuroscientists that began with the hypothesis that those at the top of an organization experienced more stress. After all, they reasoned, people at the top had more responsibility. The surprising revelation from the study was that those at the top actually experienced less stress because they had an experience of having more control, or at least more influence, over their future.
As a leader it is important to remember that you reduce people’s stress when you tell them what is happening next, are clear about your goals, and are specific about what success looks like.
The more you contribute to your employees’ experience of certainty about where you are going and what is likely to come next, the less stressed and more effective they will become.
Also, keep in mind that in the absence of an experience of certainty, people will fill the void with speculation and rumor that is all too often fueled by fear. Clarity and certainty are a leader’s antidote to the destructiveness of speculation and rumor.
Ultimately what employees want from you as a leader is for you to communicate with them in a way that tells them you care and they matter.
Your turn: What else can leaders say and do to help them better communicate and connect with their employees?