How to Sharpen Your Employee Communication Skills

By May 10, 2017 at 12:54pm

Honest, open employee communication is essential for a thriving organization. But it often takes managers years to perfect their techniques and find a balance between being open to employee communication — giving regular feedback, even when it's difficult, while building up confidence and encouraging candor among their reports — and still getting their jobs done. 

How's your communication now?

To improve your internal communication skills, you first have to objectively look at your current technique. Exact practices will vary by organization, but the principles are universal. Ask yourself these questions, and answer honestly:

How accessible are you to employees?

Great managers show their reports that they are open to feedback and want to know about ideas, problems and questions. If this is a new practice for you, perhaps you can schedule weekly office hours where your staff is welcome to chat with you, unscheduled. Sharing information gets a lot easier and more effective when the channels of communication are open.

How often do you have one-on-ones with your direct reports?

Scheduled check-ins with your employees are essential to build morale, confidence and loyalty. If the only time you regularly meet with your workers is for annual reviews, you need to step up your game. Depending on the staffer and your organization, you both might benefit from casual weekly check-ins or more in-depth meetings once a month or once a quarter. 

How often do you praise your staff?

Employees need to feel that their hard work is recognized, or resentment can grow. Adults don't need to get a gold star for each job they complete, but managers should give honest praise to staffers who go above and beyond. Even in stressful times, make a point to recognize great work — that's the difference between organizations that build loyalty and companies suffering from high turnover.

Do you try to power down the rumour mill?

If management is silent on what's happening during times of change, employees fill in the gaps with rumours. As a manager, it's in your best interest to stop the rumour mill by keeping your workers informed. You can do this by being honest with your audience, addressing issues promptly, answering questions and avoiding spin. They'll appreciate your candor and will be less likely to stress out over the unknown. 

Communicating professional feedback

Being a manager comes with its challenges, one of which is giving less-than-positive feedback on a staffer's performance. Helping someone make improvements without hurting their confidence is a real communication skill. Delivered correctly, feedback can show staff members you care not only about the integrity of the workplace but also about them. 

  • Plan what you want to say. Write an outline so you don't forget anything or get sidetracked from the core content.
  • Chat in private. When giving staffers critical feedback, meet privately so they don't feel like they're being dressed down in front of the entire office.
  • Focus on facts, not feelings. Don't say, "Chris, your reports are always late, and I'm sick of it." Say, "Chris, we've got to talk about your reports — the last four have been delivered late."
  • Make your message specific. Don't say, "We need to work on this." Instead, say, "Starting this week, I need your weekly report by noon on Friday."
  • Be timely. Don't wait until an annual review to address an ongoing issue. If you're heated up, wait until you're calm to deliver employee feedback. But don't wait so long that the person has forgotten the incident. 
  • Be direct, but tactful. Say what you really mean rather than using a softer approach that could disguise the point. For example, don't say, "Your reports are sometimes a little late" when you mean "Your last four reports have been turned in days late, which has delayed the entire team." You need to make your points clear and explain any negative effects they're having on the team. 
  • Consider training opportunities. Determine whether Chris missed her deadline not because she procrastinated, but because she lacks certain training to do the project efficiently. Give her the benefit of the doubt when asking what happened. 
  • Listen to what they have to say. When giving critical feedback, it's essential to get their side of the story. Feeling heard is important in building trust between employees and management. 

Communicating change

Staff communication is a priority for managers, even when the news is difficult. Follow this advice on the best way to communicate change and difficult news.

  • Do it quickly and accurately. If layoffs, a merger or another big change is coming, let the news come from you, not an outside source or the rumour mill. Word spreads fast. 
  • Address employee concerns. Understand what it looks like from your employees' point of view: What would you want to know? If it's about big company changes, what does that mean for your team?
  • Talk face-to-face. Delivering bad news deserves an in-person conversation. That could mean one-on-one talks, an all-staff huddle or companywide meeting. 
  • Open yourself up to questions. If team members are hesitant to open up in a Q&A session, allow them to submit questions anonymously that you will answer for everyone. 
  • Explain the reasoning. Staffers might not have the bigger picture of why changes are happening, so be sure to explain the reasoning behind them. 

A positive, open and transparent work environment is essential to delivering results and retaining top talent, and strong employee communication is key. Robert Half offers a variety of employment solutions, including resources on how to maximize your internal communications.