Sending email. Writing memos. Giving presentations.
Managers likely shuffle these tasks daily, but are employees listening?
Becoming a better communicator at work can save time, resources and headaches, said Nancy Syzdek, a UNLV lecturer and public relations executive.
“Whenever you’re asking people to give you their time and physical presence, you really want to focus that time on sharing ideas, on discussions and on decision-making,” said Syzdek, chairwoman-elect of the Employee Communications Section of the Public Relations Society of America. “If you take advantage of the energy and make it a time for discourse rather than download, you can easily turn a three-hour meeting into a 30-minute meeting.”
• Honesty is the best policy. This is true for all workplace communication, from an intra-office memo about a minor leadership change to an all-staff meeting about a company merger.
“All communications need to be conducted with honesty and integrity, so employees feel that leadership is being open with them and that they have a partnership founded in trust,” said Gillian Silver, managing partner at Strategic Resource Consulting Group and a board member for the Las Vegas chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators. “We may have to deliver unwelcome news, but it is vital that we share these developments.”
• There’s no time like the present. Don’t sit on news. Keep employees in the loop in a timely manner.
“As managers, we need to tell employees about (any big-picture updates) as soon as possible,” Silver said.
It’s all about trust, she said, and in the age of social media and texting, where communication can happen instantly, employees have more ways of finding out company news than just from you.
“If you fracture trust with employees, it is really difficult to rebuild it,” Silver said. “And today’s employee may be tomorrow’s small-business owner or city official or potential investor.”
• State your business. When scheduling a meeting, make its purpose clear.
“There is nothing more daunting than walking into the boss’s office wondering if you’re going to be complimented or criticized,” Syzdek said. “Catching people off-guard is not a good way to build relationships.”
• Begin with an inquiry. When meeting with an employee one-on-one, begin the dialogue with an open-ended question.
“Ask them how they think the project is going, which will give them the opportunity to look for ways in which improvements can be made,” Silver said. “If you ask someone what they think of their contributions, often they will be more direct in their response.”
• Set expectations and listen. For larger meetings, develop and follow a posted agenda, and let employees know in advance what you expect from them, so they’re ready to address questions or concerns.
Above all: Use your ears, not your mouth.
“If a manager spends more time talking than listening, that’s a red flag, as the first foundation of workplace communications is to realize that it’s multidirectional, not one-way,” Syzdek said. “Focus time on sharing ideas, on discussions and on decision-making, … because the era of decide/announce/defend — where employers made decisions in a vacuum — is over.”
• Set time limits. “It’s critical to be respectful of employees’ time, to set limits on conversations and also to avoid conversations that are repetitive and nonproductive, otherwise people will turn off their critical analysis and just check out,” Silver said.
• Get to the point. Keep emails, memos and other written communications short and focused.
“Don’t make your audience hunt for your point,” Szydek said. “Be concise, and don’t bury the most important information at the bottom. Not everybody needs the 20-page tome — 90 percent of readers will not get past the first paragraph — when maybe a couple of sentences will do. There will be a time and place for story-telling and broader elaboration.”
• What’s in it for me? Consider the interests and needs of the recipient. Be clear about what is expected and always include a call to action.
“People want to know how the message relates to them, what to do, when to do it and why it is important,” Syzdek said. “Don’t just vomit information into the digital sphere.”
• Choose your words carefully. Silver emphasized that email should not be treated casually. Email is a legal communication and can come up in litigation.
“I’ve seen bosses who have threatened employees through email: ‘I better see improved performance or there will be consequences,’ ” she said. “But remember that email is a permanent form of communication. Email is not an extension of social media, so please no slang, foul language or inappropriate commentary.”
• Your body speaks. Sit up straight, avoid fidgeting, maintain eye contact, smile and leave electronic devices out of the mix when giving a presentation or talking to colleagues.
“It’s not just your words that convey a message,” said Karen Friedman, author of “Shut Up and Say Something: Business Communication Strategies to Overcome Challenges and Influence Listeners.” “It’s all of you. ... Pretend that your colleague is your adorable 5-year-old daughter who you would drop everything for if she walked into the office.”
DO’S AND DON’TS DURING A MEETING
• Praise outstanding employees and achievements at the beginning of the meeting.
• Share pertinent company news.
• Solicit suggestions and opinions about challenges and processes.
• Don’t sanction or criticize individual employees or departments.
• Don’t interrupt.