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Tips for Communicating With Your Employees

Digital Library > Building and Inspiring an Organization > Communication skills “Tips for Communicating With Your Employees”

Create a culture of open communication in your entire organization with these easily mastered skills.

OVERVIEW [top]

How important is it to keep lines of communication open between you and your employees? It’s imperative — if you want them to support the company’s mission and goals and to perform to your expectations.

Regular and relevant communication from the top down — and vice versa — results in employees feeling a strong sense of identification with and connection to the company. This is the very foundation of employee loyalty and team spirit. A lack of connection, on the other hand, can breed uncertainty, distrust and alienation that frequently result in costly turnover.

Today, with technological advances such as e-mail, voice mail and teleconferencing, you have more means than ever before to keep in regular touch with employees. But technology also can be a barrier to communication, if you rely on it too much. When necessary, use it as a fast, efficient way to connect. Never forget the value of more personal — including face-to-face — communication.

In this Quick-Read you will find:

  • Tactics for connecting most effectively with your employees.
  • Tips for encouraging people to communicate with you.
  • Ways to avoid tainting communication with emotional conflicts.

SOLUTION [top]

You might think you have great communication within your company, but would your employees agree? If you want to know how to improve communication, ask them. Chances are they’re just waiting for the opportunity to tell you.

You might discover that employees feel they need more of the kind of information that allows them to do their jobs well. They may want clearer instructions for handling certain tasks or deeper insight into how the work they do contributes to company goals.

Most employees would appreciate knowing: How is my company doing? What are management’s short- and long-range plans? Are we in good financial health? If your employees indicate they want this information, share it, unless you have a very good reason not to. Putting them in the picture will pay off in goodwill and productivity. Tips for sharing information about the business can be found in the Quick Read titled Open Book Management at Work.

Many employees have great ideas for solving problems or improving processes that could boost your business. But you won’t hear about those ideas if people think you aren’t interested. They might also be afraid they’ll be penalized for overstepping their bounds if they pass their ideas on to management.

Employees need to feel it’s safe to speak up. They need to know that their ideas will be welcomed and valued. This communicative culture must be cultivated.

Example: A Minneapolis management communications firm has developed a system to help companies gather employee feedback anonymously. With a special telephone number and password, employees access a voice mail system where they can leave messages for management. Each message is transcribed, removing any information that could identify the employee. Subscribing companies receive a compilation of these employee messages regularly.

Simply inviting employee feedback isn’t enough. What you do with it will determine whether that flow of information continues. You must respond promptly and positively. Otherwise, the feedback will stop as employees realize you don’t really mean it when you say, "We want to hear your ideas!"

Don’t be offended when employees challenge the way things are done in the company. Trust that they’re speaking out in good faith. If an employee says, "Every second customer complains that this form is too complicated and takes too long to fill out," don’t respond with, "Tell them that’s just the way we do it here." Instead say, "I’m glad you brought this up; we obviously need to make some changes. I’d like to hear your ideas."

When communicating person-to-person, remember these basics:

  • Listen attentively. Don’t multitask or let your mind wander. They’ll see your inattention for what it really is &#151 a sign that "I don’t have time for you."
  • Offer praise. When employees do a great job, tell them so — and thank them for their contribution to the company.
  • Know when to say you’re sorry. Admit when you’re wrong or make a mistake. Nothing is more effective in winning your employees’ trust and respect.
  • Stay cool, calm and collected under pressure. Never be drawn into emotional conflicts.
  • If your company already is very good at communicating through one medium — say, e-mail — using an additional (different) medium for an especially important message will ensure that it is heard.

REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE [top]

Rhea Nicotra, vice president of Bishops Inc., a Pittsburgh-based manufacturer and distributor of custom window coverings, believes, "Diplomacy should drive all communications with employees. Sure, you have to say whatever you need to say when things go wrong — but always do it without attacking."

Nicotra says, "You only put people on the defensive by saying ‘You did this…’ or ‘You never do that….’ Instead, use the first person — ‘I feel…’ or ‘I don’t understand why&#133.’"

When Nicotra’s upset or angry with an employee, she’ll "back off" until she cools down — even if she has to wait until the next day. "The night before, I’ll make a list of what I want to say and how I want to say it. I even write out complete sentences. This helps me stay focused and calm when I meet with the employee."

Nicotra holds to diplomatic communication, even when an employee is the one who’s upset. "Sometimes people want to unload. You might feel like lashing out in return but you have to stay in control of your own emotions. I’ll say, ‘Obviously you’re upset about this. Let’s sit down and talk about it.’"

Privacy is crucial for such encounters, Nicotra believes. "We’ll go to a conference room and shut the door. If you have to correct an employee, you must be diplomatic and never do it in front of others."

DO IT [top]

  1. Ask your employees, "How would you improve communication within our company?" Then listen carefully to the responses and seriously consider putting the most viable into action.
  2. Make sure that employees clearly understand:
    • What is expected of them.
    • What kind of job standards and accomplishments they will be measured by.
    • How free they are to make decisions without checking with a higher authority.
  3. It is equally important for managers to be good listeners, to develop nonverbal perceptive skills and also to build some formal two-way communication structures. Listen with an open mind — and say thanks — when employees pass along complaints from customers or clients. Welcome this feedback as an opportunity to make changes that could help your business grow.
  4. Relationship building helps employees to communicate more freely with each other and helps them feel more comfortable in communicating with supervisors and managers.
  5. Connect personally with all your employees. Don’t be the distant boss everyone is too intimidated to approach. Don’t make the "you’re fired" meeting be the only face-to face meeting you ever have.
  6. Make direct eye contact and acknowledge people when you’re walking down the hall or sharing the elevator. Learn something about their personal background so you can ask, "How’s that grandson of yours?" or "How’s your team doing in the league this year?"
  7. Contribute a regular column to the company newsletter. Remind readers of the company’s mission and goals, and draw attention to how individual or team projects are "making it happen."
  8. Share success stories. Let everyone know the company had record sales this month, or won an industry award. Post the good news on bulletin boards or announce it at staff meetings.
  9. Send personal letters of praise and appreciation to employees for special achievements, contributions to the company or outstanding work on a project.

RESOURCES [top]

Books

Getting Employees to Fall in Love With Your Company by Jim Harris, Ph.D. (AMACOM, 1996).

Manager’s Tough Question Answer Book: Word-for-Word Responses for the Most Difficult Questions Managers Face by Al Guyant and Shirley Fulton (Prentice-Hall, 1996).

Professional Association/Internet Site

Society for Human Resource Management.

Articles

"Why Can’t We Be Friends"? by Nadine Heintz. Inc. (January 2004).

"Loosen Up Your Communication Style," by Theodore Kinni. Working Knowledge (June 30 2003).

"Talk to Me," by Lin Grensing-Pophal. HR Magazine (March 2000).

"How to Know when Style is the Problem," by Don Hutcheson and Bob McDonald, Orlando Business Journal 17:4 (June 26, 2000), 25.

Newsletter

Communication Briefings, 703-548-3800.

Article Contributors

Writer: Kathleen Conroy

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