Good communication is the most important skill a manager can master. It paves the way for everything else. Without good communication, you can’t be inspiring. You can’t expect work to be completed efficiently. And you won’t understand the challenges facing your staff.
In fact, good communication is often stressed as the no. 1 most important trait for leaders at all levels, regardless of their industry.
So how can you become a better boss? Here are 7 communication secrets the very best managers know about, and practice every day.
“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” - Warren Bennis
Listening is essential for leadership
The best bosses know how to listen. They understand that two-way communication is essential for productivity, happiness and creativity in the workforce.
Being an active listener is about truly grasping the meaning of the speaker. You take time to thoroughly understand someone’s words, gestures and expressions.
To practice active listening, put your laptop or phone away, make eye contact, and don’t interrupt the speaker until a natural pause occurs. Digest what they say before formulating your own response.
“You’re not only listening to what the person is saying, but how they’re saying it — and, even better, what they’re not saying, like when they get energized about certain topics or when they pause and talk around others.”
- Melissa Daimler, Head of Global Learning at Twitter
Even though active listening is a crucial management skill, most of us have no formal training in it. Visit the International Listening Association for learning and education opportunities.
2. Praise is motivational rocket fuel
It’s been proven countless times…Staff need regular positive reinforcement to stay motivated. If all they receive is criticism - and the good things they do go unnoticed - your team is going to spiral into an abyss of low morale.
Yet giving praise is something most managers struggle with. You become so wrapped up in the hectic pace of your role, and so focused on improving things, you only make time to critique problems. How do you break this pattern?
Take time at least once a fortnight to review your team’s efforts, and note things that have gone well (even if they’re consistently performed well). Use these highlights to add positive feedback into your one-on-one meetings. Make special note of initiatives and strengths that are usually taken for granted.
“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it's amazing what they can accomplish.” - Sam Walton
Giving regular positive feedback also paves the way for criticism when needed. If your team feels like you’ve noticed their achievements, they’ll be more receptive when something needs to change.
3. Criticism should always be constructive
The importance of praise doesn’t mean you should neglect criticism, but it needs to be kept constructive. A great manager knows when and how to address performance issues without tip-toeing around the matter.
Here are a few tips for keeping criticism constructive:
- It should be done in private, and addressed to the relevant person.
- Start & end conversations on a positive note (the feedback sandwich).
- Stay calm, speak slowly and never lash out.
- Back everything you say with specific examples.
- Always offer a solution or suggestion for improvement.
And before giving constructive criticism, always ask yourself if the problem can actually be fixed. Is your advice actionable? Do you have a suggestion for doing the task better? If you don’t have an improvement in mind, chances are you’re just venting - and your frustration may be better kept to yourself.
4. Jargon can be counter productive
As a manager, you spend half your working life in meetings with executives and stakeholders. In these high level meetings you discuss CPA, RPU, CRO, KPIs… Your life is a seemingly endless string of 3 letter acronyms!
So it’s understandable when you start including these in daily speech - whether it’s chatting to your partner over breakfast or in a stand-up with your team.
But this is a mistake. Business jargon is a huge impediment to understanding if your staff aren’t familiar with these terms. They’re afraid to speak up and look ignorant, so they nod along in supposed agreement (then spend the rest of the meeting mentally panicking and wondering what RPU really means!)
The safest communication policy is to avoid jargon completely - and this applies whether you’re talking to clients, colleagues, or your long suffering significant other.
If using acronyms is essential in your work, consider making a company cheatsheet or glossary to help staff newbies get up to speed. This also helps to foster a more inclusive workplace culture.
5. Gestures & expressions matter
In 2008, Rutgers Professor Marie Dasborough revealed the importance of facial expressions during feedback. She observed two groups for her study. Members of the first group were given negative feedback by their employers, accompanied by positive emotional signals - including smiling, eye contact and nodding.
The second group received positive feedback from their employers - but this time it was accompanied by frowning and narrowed eyes. Guess which group felt better about themselves afterwards?
Yep, the first group. Even though they’d been criticised, they walked away from the meeting feeling better than the group who were given negative emotional signals. Apparently the way you say things can be more important than the message itself - even in a corporate setting.
This is great news for managers, because when practiced carefully you can deliver bad news while easing the emotional impact. Be kind, warm and empathetic with your expressions - especially when you’re delivering criticism.
6. Transparency builds teamwork
The best bosses are open and honest with their employees. They don’t keep staff in the dark about problems, hide company objectives or cover up their mistakes. They also don’t make false promises, or pretend things are going great when they’re not.
Being a transparent manager will help your employees to feel valued and trusted. Involving them in company objectives and strategies will also encourage their loyalty to the business.
This is known as sharing the ‘bigger picture’ with staff. Don’t just give your team a target - explain why you chose that target, and what achieving it will mean for the wider business. They’re more likely to strive towards goals if they understand and have a feeling of common purpose.
7. You should actively seek feedback
A truly great manager knows he or she can always improve. They value the diverse opinions of their team, and continually seek their feedback.
There are obvious times for doing this; such as annual performance reviews or following a formal presentation. But it’s also important to create casual opportunities for feedback on a day-to-day basis.
Try to cultivate an open workplace environment where questions are encouraged. No one should be afraid to speak up if they have a concern - but you should also do a little prodding. Silence doesn’t always imply things are going well!
Good questions to ask your team:
- How can I serve you better as a manager?
- What resources will help you do an outstanding job?
- What opportunities do you think we’re missing out on?
- Are there any skills would you like further training in?
Offer different channels for giving feedback - if your staff are reluctant to tell you things directly, you could try a suggestions box or an anonymous online survey.
The best managers make staff want to follow and engage with them. Instead of demanding others to perform tasks; they give them the tools they need to rise to the challenge. They empower, inspire, and motivate - and this is only possible when you're a skilled communicator.