Everything You Need to Know About Employee Communication

Do you remember how the adults sounded in the Charlie Brown television specials? It was a kind of unintelligible honking noise, with no real words. We could totally tune them out and not miss a thing.

Obviously we don’t make honking sounds when we communicate, but there are times the effect ends up being the same. Communicating with employees is crucial on every possible level of your business, which is why you have to be proactive about communication instead of hoping for the best.

The Cost Of Poor Employee Communication

Bad communication, according to one survey of large business, led to $62.4 million in losses. Obviously most businesses aren’t that large, but the effects of poor employee communication still lead to the same end: measurable financial cost.

How do you get to actually losing money? Consider that poor employee communication leads to:

  • Poor efficiency. Vague communication creates unsure employees who aren’t confident and efficient.
  • Low morale. Poor communication, whether vague or abusive, make employees feel negatively about their job.
  • Less Innovation. Poor communication leads to confusion on projects and work. Most energy is put into getting the bare minimum done correctly and not into creativity.

Communication is at the heart of everything you and your employees do at work. No one is autonomous in the workplace. Everything you do is connected, and that connection is greased by communication.

Different Forms Of Communication

Communication, at its most basic, is how we share information with each other, mostly through language. We can communicate in several different ways:

  1. The words we use. Avoid jargon. Speak clearly and plainly. Communicate understanding, not confusion.
  2. The time we take. Some people prefer communication to be short and sweet, while others would feel slighted if there weren’t a few pleasantries to prime the pump. The time you take in communicating puts context to your message as well as to the perceived value the recipient feels. For an efficient person, wasting their time with extra words is disrespectful. For a social person, saying too little is disrespectful.
  3. The ideas we convey. Sometimes you’ll need to communicate more than just the idea, but peripheral concepts. It will depend on the communication needs of the person you’re talking to. They may need to know why something needs to be done, or how it will help.
  4. Your body language. This includes eye contact, whether you stand or sit, where you place yourself in the room or relation to the person you’re communicating with, what you do with your hands, and if you slouch or do other work while talking to a person–what you do with your body speaks volumes. Be purposeful about it. Your body language reveals the seriousness of the message as well as what you think of the person you’re communicating with.
  5. The tone of your voice. People can hear, in your voice, if you’re smiling. Your voice reveals emotion, tiredness, boredom–you can say one thing with your words, but your voice can imply another.

Common Communication Issues And Approaches

Good communication requires a message sent and received correctly the entire way. There can be no twisting or warping of the message along the way. That sounds simple, but there are many ways the message can get lost in translation.

Know different communication styles.

We each have a different style of communicating. It might be based on culture or personality (which we’ll cover in a bit). Here are some competing communication styles:

  • Direct vs. Indirect.  Direct styles prefer when people speak up and are blunt and to the point. They don’t want to waste time with extraneous communication. Indirect styles approach a topic from sideways, without saying it directly. Direct styles won’t pick up on what indirect styles are implying.
  • Competitive vs. Affiliative. Some employees are always in a competition, others prefer group consensus. Competitive styles try to establish power and dominate. Affiliative styles, on the other hand, want input from others and are less assertive. Affiliative styles are easily made silent if competitive styles are allowed free reign.
  • Visual/Auditory/Tactile. Some people learn better through images or video. Others are quick to pick things up by hearing. Others need a more hands-on experience. Try to offer a mix of both in meetings and training. When working one-on-one, tailor your communication accordingly.

Just remember that in these different (and competing) styles, neither is better or worse, just different. Because they are competing, there can be frustration if you aren’t proactive about recognizing and valuing them all.

Learn to listen.

Communication isn’t a one-way street, though a lot of managers seem to think so.

Speak what you have to. Then stop, be quiet, and listen. Not hear, but listen.

Identify the barriers to listening, whether you have an inner critic that’s drowning out other people, or you are already anticipating what you’ll say in response. Perhaps you think you establish authority by making your voice the loudest and longest heard.

Listen first. Speak only if you have to. That, in itself, communicates that your employees have worth to you.

Stop listening through filters.

We all bring stereotypes and prejudices into communication, often unaware of doing so. When we carry those too close to the heart, we put those up as a filter and interpret through them.

You might dismiss a female employee as being emotional when she’s simply passionate about something. You might dismiss a shy male employee as being indifferent when he’s actually quite excited about a project.

To solve this issue, you must first identify the stereotypes or prejudices that you have. Then understand where they came from, and be purposeful to put them aside when communicating. Get to know people personally so you can destroy your assumptions about them.

Be aware of cultural differences.

Workplace diversity is a great thing. It also means that there can be cultural differences that affect communication.

According to the Conflict Research Consortium at the University of Colorado, our culture affects how we see, hear, and understand the world around us. Cultural differences can get in the way because culture sets three types of “constraints” on how we live:

  1. Cognitive Constraints: Our view of the world creates a framework against which all things are based on. Different worldviews will interpret the same communication very differently.
  2. Behavior Constraints:  Each culture has sets of behavior that are understood to be proper. What one person thinks is a good communication technique might be a bad behavior to another. They’ll never hear what you’re saying because the behavior is speaking too loudly.
  3. Emotional Constraints: Each culture has a standard on what kinds of emotion are displayed, and how they are displayed. What one culture might consider exuberant or passionate communication in the midst of debate could seem overly emotional to another culture.

Training and discussing different cultures present in your business may help make people aware of these cultural differences. At the very least, it’s important for employers to make sure their team understands that cultural differences have an effect and that everyone should be aware of it.

Be aware of personality differences.

There’s no shortage of systems and tests that measure personality. If we simplify it to five common personality types in relation to communication preferences (“voice”), it might look like this:

  1. Nurturers: These people care for other people and their communities, above anything else. Values and commitment matter, as does peaceable existence. When communicating with nurturers, it is important that they understand the benefit to the community. If you’re suggesting a change, for example, you need to communicate more than orders to change, but also let them know how the change will be a benefit.
  2. Creators: These people are most excited about new ideas and are often forward thinkers. They tend to have a big-picture view and see how things fit, how change could improve things. When communicating with creators, you’ll want to allow them to share their idea safely without shutting them down, and be sure that when you communicate with them, you do so in a way that allows for open ideas. The best way to do that is to ask questions of them instead of dictating to them.
  3. Guardians: These people are all about preservation. They want to protect what exists and be good stewards. They are methodical, systematic, and value responsibility and hard work. Some people might view guardians as killjoys because they poke holes in ideas. Guardians, however, keep you from going off the deep end. Communicating with them means you will need to address what concerns them and not dismiss those concerns flippantly.
  4. Connectors:  These people are all about networking. They love to see people and ideas come together to be better than what they would have been on their own. They seem to be able to sense what will work well together and have a knack for bringing it all under one roof. This means your communication with connectors will need a collaboration bent. The language you use is that of group dynamics, of “we” and “us” and togetherness. Autonomy isn’t of interest to connectors.
  5. Pioneers: These people sometimes run the show aggressively, which can be bad or good. They are future-fixated, competitive, and highly structured. Their goal is to finish and win. Only 7% of the population would be considered a pioneer, but about half of all CEOS are pioneers. You’ll probably encounter these folks further up the management ladder. Your communication with them must show the strategy behind the request, or frame it as a kind of competition or achievement. Pioneers tend to be dominant, so if you are in a position of leadership, you will need to communicate your position clearly as they will be jockeying for position against you.

There are so many ways to look at personalities based on introversion, extraversion, feeling, judging, a four-category color wheel–we’re all familiar with at least one of the personality scales.

Hopefully, you and your team explore personality differences in a safe and non-threatening manner. There are even online tests that people can take to discover what kind of a “voice” they use when communicating. Not only will employees learn more about themselves, but they will be more aware of who they are working with.

The basic rule of thumb, when communicating, is to first be aware of your own deficiencies, and be aware of all of the moving pieces at work. Know that when you are speaking to a group of employees, they are not all perceiving you the same way. By assuming that you will need to communicate (which includes listening) frequently and in different ways, often one-on-one in follow-up, you’ll be less likely to take a “set it and forget it” communications approach.

Good employee communication is hard work, but the payoffs are huge.

Everything You Need to Know About Employee Communication