Here’s how to get managers to effectively communicate with employees

Here’s how to get managers to effectively communicate with employees

By Daniel Schroeder, for SBT

Question: Recently, we’ve observed that our managers aren’t as skilled as they should be in the areas of presentation, feedback and negotiation. We did a 360º-survey and one common finding was that our managers don’t communicate effectively, at least as far as the employees are concerned. What suggestions can you offer for addressing this situation?

Answer: If I had a dime for every time within my consulting practice I address an issue such as the one you raise in your question, I would be the proverbial millionaire. In my experience, this is a very common occurrence. In fact, my sense is that this is a reflection of the Information Age and its related emphasis on technical and subject matter expertise; soft-skills and interpersonal capabilities tend to be viewed as "nice but not necessary."
For what it’s worth, you can take solace in knowing that your company is not the only one that must confront this issue.
For instance, the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) has documented that in terms of individuals with whom its has worked, 80% of "rising star" managers who have "failed" have failed due to what CCL calls an "interpersonal deficit."
In practical terms, that means that these former "fair-haired" men and women are no longer viewed as such because, put simply, they "rub people the wrong way." Clearly, this is a pervasive problem in many organizations.
Think about it. When we hire someone, we tend to emphasize what he/she knows about a given subject matter (i.e., engineering, accounting, etc.). Perhaps secondarily (if we consider it all), we look at broader issues having to do with the ability to lead, get along, facilitate, etc.
Yet, as I observed in my last article on succession planning, in some cases, the day comes when the subject matter expert is promoted to the role of supervisor or manager.
At that point, a number of questions emerge. What skills does this person bring to this role in the interpersonal relations and strategic domains? How prepared is he/she to work effectively through and with others? What formal training/development has been offered in speaking, writing, listening, providing feedback, etc.?
Obviously, we often promote people to managerial positions without adequately preparing them.
Given the increased visibility of most managerial assignments, it’s important that individuals present themselves well. Managers must advance their ideas and those of the organization.
In short, the ability to speak well is foundational for managerial success. But what are some basic guidelines for effective speaking? What must a manager do to get his/her point across?
Basically, there are three considerations that must be taken into account when you, as a manager, offer an oral presentation. They are:
–You must effectively and accurately present your message;
— You must ensure that your receivers understand your message;
–You must manage your message effectively.

Implicit in those considerations is the recognition that to be an effective speaker, you must be an effective listener. After all, researchers who study such things point out that we spend up to 70% or 80% of our work lives receiving messages. Thus, if we are ineffective at listening, we are doomed to be ineffective at presenting.
In any event, when it comes to effectively communicating a managerial message, here are some basic considerations:
Avoid ambiguity – Effective presenters and speakers minimize the use of "fuzzy" words. They speak simply and clearly to minimize the chance that they will be misunderstood.
Consider your listeners when you are speaking. What are they hearing? If you asked them to repeat what you just said, could they do so? With what degree of accuracy? You can go a long way toward making an effective presentation simply by taking your receivers more seriously by attending to their needs and concerns.
Speak practically – Any effective speaker knows that he/she must have an agenda in mind prior to getting started.
When you speak, you are asking people to listen to you and offer their time and attention. This is a serious request and care should be taken to ensure that no one walks away feeling cheated or used. The best way to score on this point is to have a plan and to deliver on it.
A few simple suggestions in this regard include the need to speak assertively, to speak concisely and to offer relevant information.
Prepare for meetings – Managers conduct and attend a lot of meetings. Meetings are a vital part of the organization and workflow. How many of them, though, are really effective?
And within the context of this article, how many of them are effective conversations? After all, meetings are simply a more formal type of interpersonal communication. Accordingly, to be an effective communicator, a manager must be an effective meetings manager. Principally, that involves preparing and planning for the meeting.
Rule No. 1, by the way, in effective meetings management is, "Should the meeting be held?" Time is money, and when you ask a number of people to attend a meeting, it should be worth their time. Other meetings management considerations include: Who should attend? How long should the meeting be? And what is the agenda?
Develop facilitation skills – Once a meeting has been called, the manager must step forward as a skilled facilitator. That involves focusing on the agenda and the stated goals; clarifying issues, rules, concerns, etc.; and summarizing each stage of the proceedings.
An effective facilitator does not dominate. He/she lets others speak and manages and orchestrates the flow of information. He/she enforces the ground rules that have been established. He/she acts as a role model of effective interpersonal communication by adopting a task-oriented, problem solving approach.
Provide feedback and seek to have feedback provided to you – Ultimately, from my perspective, to be an effective communicator you must be mindful of two basic questions: "How am I doing?" And, "How are we doing?"
Feedback in response to each of those questions is critical. The skilled managerial communicator offers it and seeks it. He/she is concerned with both achieving a given task and using the best communication process to achieve that end.
Effective managerial communicators, then, de-brief their meetings and conversations, asking questions such as, "Did this go as you had expected it to?" "What worked well?" "What didn’t work so well?" "How can I help you to be a more full and active participant?" And so on.
It has been written that the Tower of Babel collapsed because people could no longer communicate – their speech had become so different that people could not understand each other. Follow the advice that I offer in this article to avoid having your organization’s "tower of communication" come crashing down. Task your managers with being both technically proficient and interpersonally adroit.

Daniel Schroeder, Ph.D., of Organization Development Consultants Inc. (ODC) in Brookfield, provides this column. Small Business Times readers who would like to see an issue addressed may reach him at 262-827-1901, via fax at 262-827-8383, via e-mail at or via the Internet at

May 2, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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