As originally published in Forbes here.
As part of my series around the three M’s of employee experience strategy, I have covered the key moments in an employee’s day, the recruitment process, their first 60 to 90 days on the job and performance evaluation. Now, I want to explore four key moments employees experience when communicating with their manager, peers and the organization as a whole.
1. Does my manager communicate effectively so I understand what is expected of me?
I often say communication is a leader’s most important tool. It’s critical in the work environment and for the employee experience. While everyone communicates there is a difference between a manager communicating effectively and just sending out a lot of information. For communication to be effective, those receiving the information need to understand it — something that many employees tell us often does not happen. Managers must make communication a priority and this means developing skills and the ability to share information clearly across multiple mediums.
When it comes to verbal communication there are many important elements to ensure employee understanding: using straightforward language, getting to the point quickly and checking for understanding. My team and I also remind managers to check their body language, facial expressions and tone of voice when speaking as they all communicate meaning. When writing, be sure to use proper grammar and spelling.
To ensure understanding, we have to ask questions and inspect what we expect after providing direction. Managers have to stop asking, “Does everybody understand?” because, in my experience, 99% of your employees will say they do even if they don’t. Also, asking, “Are there any questions?” doesn’t often result in anyone asking clarifying questions. When there is silence, a manager often feels they have communicated effectively. Instead, ask employees to tell you what they will do with the information you have provided or — even better — observe them in action to see if they registered the information.
And when it comes to effective communication, remember that actions speak louder than words, so no matter what you say or write, what you do as a manager sends the loudest message.
2. Does my manager listen to me?
When we talk to employees about respect (or the absence of it), listening inevitably comes up as an example. “My manager does not listen to me” is often a quote in our surveys, yet when we talk to managers, they seem to think they do a pretty good job. Part of the challenge may be that there are different types of listening. If we ranked the different types of listening, ignoring someone would be at the bottom, which obviously is not listening at all. Above that is pretend listening, which means the listener may look at you to signal they are listening, but their mind and thoughts are elsewhere, which is not what an employee wants from their manager.
Next is selective listening — where a manager only listens to what they want to listen to. Many managers favor this tactic because it allows them to do other tasks simultaneously. In the past few years, we have heard employees increasingly say how disrespectful it is for a manager to say they are listening while working on their computers or phones. Managers need to understand they are sending a clear and loud message at that moment regarding how much they respect and value their people. While managers believe they can multi-task, listening to your employees cannot be done in tandem with something else. You either listen or you don’t.
The next level of listening is active listening, which means the manager is engaged in conversation. They pay attention while ensuring their non-verbal cues are appropriate — they listen, reflect on what is said and paraphrase as necessary. Most people think this is what effective listening looks like. However, it is still not the best and most impactful style of listening. Empathetic listening is not just listening but understanding what the person is saying and, most importantly, feeling. It’s like taking a step in someone else’s shoes because you are looking at things from their point of view, not your own. When an employee hears their manager say they genuinely understand how they feel, the employee feels they are legitimately heard.
3. Does the organization communicate important information to me via my preferred method of communication?
From our feedback sessions with employees across all industries, we know it’s essential for employees to receive regular and relevant communication from the organization. They want to know the latest news regarding benefits, growth opportunities and organizational performance. While many organizations are committed to communicating necessary information, they fail in the ways they communicate. With younger generations of workers preferring technology-based communication, organizations need to expand the ways they communicate. By utilizing phones for video, a Twitter or text feed for Q&A and a company social media page for posts (supported by in-person meetings and emails), a company can go far in ensuring they are communicating to their employees using each preferred method.
4. Are the meetings I attend worthwhile?
Meetings are often used as a method of communication and, when executed effectively, are a critical part of an organization’s communication strategy. However, many times, meetings prove to be a complete waste of people’s time. I am often reminded of American author Dave Barry’s quote, “If you had to identify, in a word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.'” Meetings (and the people who attend them) suffer when they lack purpose, an agenda and participation, and when they run overtime. Assess the value of the meetings you are responsible for by asking everyone involved how they are going and whether they are still needed.
Communication may be a manager’s most influential leadership tool, so it needs to be a priority. When you consider what is necessary for your employees’ communication, you ensure you send information effectively and develop a culture that supports collaboration, connection and understanding.