Effective communication is a staple of good management. It is partly about learning the difference between communicating and merely talking. You can talk for an hour without properly conveying a message. To communicate effectively, never waffle, but use concise, clear and intelligible language. Good communicators coherently assert ideas and commands so they are fully understood. It is also about receiving ideas and information from employees.
To effectively communicate, understand the different kinds of communication both verbal and non-verbal and know when each one is appropriate. A modern workplace encourages and depends upon an exchange of ideas and information to achieve maximum productivity, innovation and efficiency. This cannot be achieved by a one-sided issuing of commands, but only by fully engaging with staff, clients and suppliers.
It is therefore important to understand the different ways you can communicate and how effective they are in different situations. The first and often the most effective is face-to-face communication. Take the trouble to talk in person to show respect. You not only took time out of your busy schedule to deliver the information personally, but you required direct contact to do it. This method of communication is often the most effective when conveying something negative or unpleasant.
When telling a client that something has gone wrong and their project will not be completed in the given timescale, a quick email will invariably provoke an unfavourable and sometimes damaging response. The client does not have to look you in the eye while complaining, they can simply hit the reply button. A face-to-face meeting in a professional setting with an apology, an action plan and a chance for the client to give feedback and voice opinions will reduce the negative impact. The client will feel that you respected them enough to take the time to fully explain the issues and the solutions. When dealing with employees, face-to-face contact will provide a healthy setting for two way conversation and quick fire ideas.
Another popular method of communication is by email. The email should never be a manager’s primary method of communication for several reasons. When discussing a difficult subject you can avoid a potentially awkward conversation by firing off an email. It allows a certain amount of anonymity on your part. You can deliver a message without having to watch the reaction of the recipient. The recipient however is aware that this is why you have chosen to deliver the message via email and realises that you are making the situation easier for yourself by putting your own comfort first.
When you are telling someone something positive, it can seem offhand when it is not backed up with a positive tone, a smile or a handshake. If the recipient is looking at you and seeing a confident smile and body language while the message is being delivered, while being given the opportunity for immediate feedback then whatever the message, they are likely to feel better about it. An email can simply show a lack of respect. It can also cause misunderstanding. Your tone and inflection may be misread and something you may say as a light-hearted comment may be read as more personal than it was intended. ‘Tongue in cheek’ should never be attempted via email!
I once worked in an office where one team member had a problem with something another team member did. He sent a fairly uptight email to all team members telling them not to do something most of them never did anyway. Since it was an email it came across as aggressive and this annoyed several people. We all responded with equally aggressive emails of complaint. The situation continued until managers began to be included in the reply emails and the situation was blown out of all proportion. The author of the original email worked in the same building as everyone else. We were all called together where the issue was discussed and the employee who sent the emails apologised for the aggressive tone, suggesting it was not intended. It was agreed that there should be a weekly team meeting set up where issues could be discussed face to face to avoid this kind of unnecessary escalation.
This example of bad communication could have been avoided if the team member had thought about how best to communicate his instructions. Post it notes and emails are fine for quick notes that do not need explanation or discussion. They should not be your most frequent method of communication and should not be a way for you to avoid a potentially embarrassing or awkward discussion. The best use of emails as a communication method is to sum up and confirm what has already been discussed in person.
This face to face communication also allows people to build a rapport with each other which is another important aim and result of good communication skills. Building a good rapport with clients does mean that when there are problems, the client is less likely to take quick negative action. It is more common for them to be understanding and tolerant when things go wrong. This is because the rapport you have will mean they see a complaint against you or your service as a complaint against you personally and the relationship you have built and they will be more reluctant to do this. They are far more likely to call you personally about small issues giving you the chance to deal with them, rather than calling or emailing your managers with problems.
Building a rapport with your staff is also vital. If they are comfortable with you then they will work harder and you will be able to ask more of them. If you are obviously feeling awkward when talking to them and not communicating effectively then they will feel unable to approach you and they in turn may communicate by emails or methods with minimum personal contact. Problems may occur such as misinterpretation and misunderstanding. Do not be afraid to build up a relationship with your staff. Do this in both professional and social environments. There are simple ways to do this. Make sure your demeanour is friendly and approachable. Acknowledge them when you first see them and ask how they are. On more social occasions or during breaks, attempt to find common interests you can discuss.
Building a rapport does not mean becoming an employees close friend to the point where you no longer feel comfortable managing them, but it does mean actively taking an interest in them so they feel that you care about them as people and they recognise you as a good person. When extra work out of hours is required, they are more likely to agree if they have a good relationship with you since they will not want to let you down. It is harder for people to say no when they realise it may damage the high quality working relationship you enjoy. If you are a distant, unapproachable figure that shows no interest in your staff other than their basic productivity then they may see no reason to go the extra mile for you. It will also be easier to discuss more difficult topics with people.