How to Strengthen Your Team with Intentional and Open Communication
I once worked in an office where, at some point along the way, management instituted the policy that creatives shouldn’t communicate directly with managers in charge of client services. Staff managers were interlocutors with whom we creatives communicated with client services. As a result it took hours, and sometimes days, to perform tasks we could have done in minutes. Let’s just say the system was flawed because, without open communication, it created frustration.
Communication and Employee Engagement
Communication is one of the keys to employee engagement—a pilot study found “a signiﬁcant and positive association” between communication and engagement, with “organizational” communication spurring a 23 percent improvement, while “supervisor” communication saw a 32 percent improvement in engagement.
Engagement through communication will help improve your organization’s productivity. “When crucial information isn’t flowing between departments, these silos crush productivity and ultimately stifle growth,” says David Hassell, founder of 15Five.
Particularly in larger organizations, HR departments are the go-to for interdepartmental communication. Yet, 80 percent of payroll departments report to finance, not HR. This is a breakdown in open communication, resulting in data-transfers and report requests that waste time. Furthermore, less than 50 percent of American workers are motivated by their organization’s mission statement. This is a breakdown in intentional communication — it’s a waste of words.
Intentional communication is strategic communication you use to reinforce purpose. When it comes to communicating with intent, don’t use just any old words.
Your words must inspire action, invoke thought, and encourage participation. This isn’t a subject localized to today’s business world — Aristotle studied it over 2,000 years ago, then he taught Alexander the Great how to lead. To figure out how best to be intentional, start with Aristotle’s three elements of great communication.
Ethos is about building trust. When employees trust you, they trust you mean what you say, and they trust the substance of your words. Ethos, then, starts with actions. Ethical actions communicate ethical intent, and ethical communication provides the linchpin of intent. Harvard’s Scott Edinger calls this “displaying strong levels of integrity and character.”
Intelligent actions communicate intelligent intent — you can also establish ethos by showing you know what you’re talking about.
Trust is hard to come by, so showing you have ethos is incredibly important. Be an expert on business ethics. According to Marylhurst University, “The approach to ethics should be intertwined with philosophy, morality and leadership behaviors.”
Pathos, from which the words empathy and sympathy get their root, is about showing you care. No one will want to listen to you if they feel you’re not listening to them.
To demonstrate pathos, listen to employees. Engage in conversations with them about their career development, their aspirations and values, their lives. Show you’re human, show you have emotions and you’re passionate. Establish eye contact, laugh with them, mirror their body language, and make emotionally rich statements that start with “I feel”. Actively acknowledge the substance of their words, and show you’re willing to change based on feedback.
Logos is about using sense and logic to convince people your intent is valid. It encapsulates the more technical aspect of effective communication. You must speak clearly and cogently, ordering your thoughts and making points people can understand. While ethos requires you to have evidence to back up your assertions, logos requires you to assert your evidence with a clear line of reasoning.
Now that you know what to do, know what not to do. Sujan Patel’s seven deadly sins of communication are important for any leader—not just managers—to avoid.
- Don’t focus on weaknesses when you’re giving feedback, it causes employees to be actively disengaged
- Pathos requires you to consider employees’ professional development—if you don’t, they may be motivated to seek employment elsewhere
- Don’t hesitate to talk with employees about their everyday work-life
- Don’t micromanage when you’re talking to them about work
- This should go without saying, but when you’re sympathizing with employees, don’t be negative with your own outlook
- Don’t mask feedback behind passive-aggressive speech — take responsibility
- Don’t wall yourself off — be open to employee chat and feedback
With an open posture and an open door, encourage employees to talk to you. Moreover, facilitate open communication on an organizational level.
There are several reasons organizations might not have an open communication model. For one, they’re overwhelmed with the deluge of emails, social media messages, and other communiques that pile up and diminish productivity. Two, they worry people will make inappropriate statements. Note that both of these reasons are fear-based.
Don’t let fear get in the way of something that could be positive. Consider the following methods of opening up communication channels.
Lead by Example
Make yourself available to talk as often as possible and respond to employee messages as quickly as possible. Remember when your favorite high school teacher said “no question is a bad question”? That applies here too.
Have Open-ended Meetings
If you only have formal meetings designed to address practical problems, you won’t address the problem that there’s not enough informal rapport-building going on. Host meetings where people can get to know each other better and ask questions in a relaxed yet professional setting.
Create a Complaint Channel
People should be able to voice their complaints without worrying about adverse consequences. Set up an anonymous complaint channel and make it easy to access. Do your best to address complaints during meetings, via email and when setting policy. Advise people to bring their complaints to you in person as well.
Use Social Media and Other Applicable Platforms
Millennials are used to communicating via social media, and it has been very easy for many people in older generations to adapt. With the workplace social media platform Slack, for example, you can set up various channels and designate them for different functions. Facebook Workplace is also an option. One channel could be for brainstorming, another for chat, another for specific committees, another for specific departments. Set up guidelines through HR on what sort of discussion is appropriate, and involve yourself in the primary channels.
Other platforms to consider are Evernote, for sharing documents, and Asana, for assigning tasks and managing projects.
Pay Attention to Sub-cultures and Individual Preferences
Sometimes, communication style from executives and managers can be confusing and insensitive to employees with diverse backgrounds. When you address the whole team, don’t use jargon and slang some might not be familiar with. Conduct a survey on employees’ preferred communication channel. Make informal meetings optional, and give introverted employees the option to express themselves through social media, email, and satisfaction surveys.
Set Clear Expectations
There’s no reason to be cryptic. When it comes to tasks, roles, as well as company mission and goals, be up-front about what you expect.
Don’t set up artificial barriers between departments; encourage people to communicate important information with each other. And, don’t think of intentional communication and open communication as two separate things. Intend openess, and set the example of what that looks like.
Finally, put a premium on communicating when it is most necessary. Being open and intentional does not mean inundating anyone with emails that become background noise. Be strategic with your words, and open yourself up to what your team has to say.