No matter where you sit in the org chart, half your job is communication related. Whether giving directions to your staff, updating your manager about the department’s current operations and needs, or discussing with your peers how you can work together more successfully, an effective communication style may make all the difference.
Let’s look at two common workplace experiences:
In the first, John repeatedly told his employees that he didn’t want everyone to take their lunch break at the same time. Yet day after day at 12:30, the office would be empty.
In the second, Marge felt she was ready for a promotion and went to her manager to explain why. But, as she later told some friends, “I never even got to raise the issue. I think my boss deliberately avoided the discussion.”
What went wrong
Neither of them made an effort to be understood, or checked to be sure they were heard. They didn’t have an effective communication style.
There are some basics that all managers should know:
- Be direct when the situation demands it. Say what you mean—clearly. Do not garble your message behind phrases that obscure or soften its impact.
- When making a request or giving a directive, be polite. Don’t snap at an employee.
- Take a moment to think before speaking. What do you really want to say? What emotions do you want to express?
- Be certain the time is appropriate for communicating. Praise is usually welcome at any time, but criticism should be avoided when the employees is on the way out and leaving for a three-day weekend.
How could they have improved their efforts?
First, John should have explained to his staff why coverage of the department was critical to the organization. He might have suggested that they work with him to prepare a schedule to ensure that each employee would be given alternating responsibility to cover the department during the noon lunch time.
Marge’s example illustrates that communication problems aren’t limited to managers. Some employees find it just as difficult to make an impact when approaching a supervisor. The key to successful communication for Marge would have been preparation.
Let’s assume you have an idea or request (such as Marge’s for a promotion). Choose a time when you know your manager is free, or set up an appointment. Most importantly, come prepared. For instance, Marge should have brought documentation of her accomplishments over the past two years. It wouldn’t have hurt, either, if she had alerted her boss to the purpose of the meeting. Even if she didn’t get what she wanted, her boss would be aware of her aspirations and might have used the time prior to the meeting to come up with a compromise offer, such as a bonus.
Marge should also have practiced the most economical way to present her case. Wordiness isn’t an effective communication style — you can lose a listener’s attention. Further, Marge should not have played all her cards at once. She could have pointed to some of her past accomplishments. If she met with hesitation, she could have gone into greater detail, stressing how her efforts had significantly helped her manager. Copies of her past performance assessments would have also been handy, had they supported her request.
Finally, Marge shouldn’t have left without leaving the door open for subsequent discussion of a promotion. For instance, she could have told her boss, “I’d like to think through your concerns to see what I can come up with. Can we meet again soon?”
Communication skills are vital to your career development, no matter what level you're on. AMA has resources and seminars to help you improve the way you relate to colleagues and staff.