Creating a functional workplace is a delicate, multifaceted process. However, despite the need to address a number of areas, communication must be tackled first. As businesses navigate the new normal, this is particularly important in generating happiness, engagement and productivity.
We are not autonomous in the work place; we do not work alone. For a workplace to function well, everybody must be able to interact and communicate effectively with one another, whether remote or co-located. This means that lower level employees need to feel safe communicating openly with their bosses, and leaders need to feel comfortable communicating with their teams.
This psychological safety is a critically important part of effective communication in the workplace. Without it, people do not ask questions, raise concerns or express their opinions.
What’s more, effective communication is often founded on mutual trust between leaders and employees. As soon as this level of trust is broken, it impacts those working relationships. When this happens, people no longer work well together. This impacts people’s happiness and wellbeing, and in turn affects their productivity, job satisfaction and the company’s bottom line.
Communication is intertwined with every aspect of working life. If people cannot communicate well with one another, it leads to a dysfunctional work environment, and everything starts to break down from there.
The importance of healthy communication and leadership
Without healthy workplace communication, you cannot have effective leadership. Think about how much a leader needs to communicate and how clear their communication needs to be when working remotely. They need to share their vision and ideas, influence and delegate tasks to their team, and show empathy and support.
Unfortunately, not all leaders have good communication skills. Though essential, this is simply not taught in formal education, so it’s something that many lack. Or worse, they do not think that communication skills are important and prefer to focus on technical skills instead.
Most people learn communication skills and other soft skills on the job. Some pick it up naturally, but others struggle.
This is especially true for emerging leaders who have recently transitioned into a leadership position. They are used to being the one who is delegated to, but now they have to delegate to others. This requires a mindset and communication shift that not everybody is equipped for.
How can managers improve their communication?
It is not particularly surprising that 69% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with employees.
For instance, some people communicate too aggressively because they assume that is what’s expected of a leader. As a result, they may alienate their team and damage the potential for a culture of mutual trust.
Others have a hard time leveling up their communication to become more confident and assertive. This is usually because, internally, they are held back by a degree of impostor syndrome.
So, given that many managers are uncomfortable communicating with their employees, how can they achieve more effective communication in the workplace?
It’s all too easy for a leader to slip into the habit of being pushy and aggressive, so my first piece of advice would be to tone it down and dial it back.
Aggressive communication often shows up in delegation. Instead of ordering somebody to do a task, using language such as ‘finish this report by Friday!’, leaders should try more inclusive language.
‘I’ll need you to finish this report by Friday, do you think you can manage that?’, could be a more suitable way to frame this request. This gets the employee to opt-in and makes them feel more included and empowered. This technique works well when delegating via video because you cannot rely on body language to help tone down your message.
Next, if the manager has an issue with impostor syndrome and they are not communicating effectively because self-doubt stops them, they need to first work on their mindset.
They need to understand that they have been promoted into that leadership position for a reason. Their boss believes in them. They can do the job well.
With this empowered mindset, the manager should also practice communicating more assertively in the workplace to increase their self-confidence and the confidence they project to others. This culture of assertive communication will allow people to honestly and clearly express their feelings, opinions and desires, and to do so without fear of being judged or confronted.
Finally, it may be the case that a manager is competent in 1-2-1 communication, but not in a group situation. This is often due to a lack of confidence.
People who are promoted into leadership positions based purely on their technical skills are prone to suffering from this.
In this case, I suggest communicating on a 1-2-1 basis with each team member first. Build a relationship with them and get them on board with you. Then when you take an idea to the group, you already have people supporting you at an individual level which will amplify your support at the group level.
Though incremental, these small changes all contribute to a wider cause: creating a healthier and more effective leadership communication climate for the new working world. This should, in turn, have a considerable knock-on effect on a broader level, improving the day-to-day experience of the workforce, contributing to a better company culture and resulting in higher productivity throughout the business.
Subscribe to HRD Connect for daily updates on the future of work, including thought leadership, video interviews, the HRD Live Podcast and more.