How to overcome problems and make communications a two-way street Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2010

Poor communication is a common problem in many organizations, resulting in a number of workplace woes such as interpersonal conflict, poor productivity and low morale. Fortunately, communication problems are almost always solvable, and, while not everyone may be born a great communicator, most of us can learn.

In order to improve relationships with employees and ensure messages are achieving the intended results, effective communication requires a constant exchange of information. In many organizations, internal communications consist of e-mail messages, memos to employees, informal surveys and town-hall meetings — all of which are indeed activities of internal communication, but all lack the critical component of personal contact.

“In this age of electronic communication, too many of us use e-mail as a substitute for personal interaction,” says Amy Broadbent, the vice president of JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice. “When giving employees news that directly affects their work, it is best to convey the message in person.”

Doing so will give you the opportunity to clarify complex or sensitive issues and answer questions. When giving instructions or discussing business solutions, do not assume that everyone understands you. It is important to ask if you have been clear or if further explanation is necessary. Different people often make different deductions from the same information. The extra effort made clarifying an issue upfront can save valuable time later by preventing mistakes and misunderstandings.

Smart Business spoke to Broadbent about communication, overcoming communication issues, and why clear and effective communication is so vital to business.

Why is clear communication so critical?

Employees want to be heard; managers and supervisors need to take time to listen. Clear communication is a two-way street. So, enter every discussion with an open mind. The more receptive you are to new ideas and suggestions, the more readily your staff will offer them. Improving communication with employees can help employers build stronger and more productive relationships. Keeping your team members informed and showing genuine interest in what they have to say in return is critical in creating the type of work environment that brings out the best in employees.

How does feedback to employees tie into effective communication?

Meaningful feedback to employees is very important to effective communication. While annual performance evaluations are valuable communication tools, they should not be limited to once-a-year events. People do not like surprises and they want an opportunity to develop and improve throughout the year. Providing continuous and constructive on-the-job evaluations that focus on situations as they arise is a key component of effective communication. Remember to highlight the positives as well as the negatives. And, in addition to giving assessments, solicit feedback from employees. Ask if there is anything you can do to make their jobs easier or more satisfying.

So face time is a critical key to effective communication with employees?

It is critical to make time for regular one-on-one meetings, during which you offer your undivided attention. Individual employee meetings present a good opportunity to find out about your employees’ career goals, what they think needs to be improved within the company or situations that may be affecting their job performance. When people request an opportunity to meet with you, try to give them as much time as possible and remain completely engaged in the conversation. Taking telephone calls or allowing other disruptions will convey to the employee that you do not consider them and/or their concerns a priority.

Face time is the most preferred way to communicate. Newsletters, voice mail and e-mail are fine, but employees need face time. In general, employees that consider their employers to be effective communicators have higher morale, are more productive, are more loyal and have more faith in management.

Doesn’t this level of communication require a lot of patience?

Absolutely. Demonstrating patience is another key element of effective communication and is often easier said than done. When interacting with a staff member who doesn’t seem to comprehend something, try to work together toward a better understanding of the issue. What may seem obvious to you might not be so obvious to the person with whom you are speaking. Consider other ways of explaining the information.

How can the CEO or management encourage effective communication?

CEOs and management can drive effective communication by defining a clear line of sight between the employees and the company’s mission, vision and goals. Help your managers communicate the organization’s messages and they will in turn improve your employees’ communication. But, no matter how effective your managers are in driving and improving communication, employees still want to hear directly from the president and/or CEO, especially when it comes to important business messages. Bottom line, encourage and foster effective communication for all managers and employees, but make sure, as the president or CEO, that you are an effective communicator.

Amy Broadbent is the vice president of JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice. Reach her at (412) 456-7250 or amy.broadbent@jrgadvisors.net.