By Paul Heltzel
Tips for improving communication in your office
Whether you’re a first-time boss or you’ve been running the show for decades, one of the most frequent complaints managers have is that they can’t get through to their employees. One line of thinking is that to get them to listen to you, you have to learn to listen to them—rather than simply hear them—first.
“Giving employees a voice empowers individuals and teams, builds leadership skills and creates a collaborative culture,” says Chicago-based management consultant Susan Kuczmarski.
Read on for tips on improving communication in your office.
1. Write This Down
John Crossman, CEO of real estate firm Crossman & Company, says he like to write things down when speaking with employees. “I often take notes while they’re talking,” Crossman says. “It helps me to focus and concentrate on key points.”
2. Ask Questions
Crossman—whose firm manages 350 shopping centers in the Southeast—uses questions to show employees their thoughts are taken seriously. “I like to say, ‘What I heard you say is…’ and then repeat what they said. It confirms for both of us that I heard what they said. It doesn’t mean I agree with them; it simply means that I heard them.”
3. Follow Up
Crossman says he tries to make sure employees have said everything they intended before they break. “I like to ask ‘Is there anything that you feel that you need to tell me that I haven’t asked or that you feel that I haven’t heard?’” Crossman says. “Then be silent. I want them to have every opportunity to express what they need to express.”
4. Meet the Boss
Stan Steinreich, president and CEO of Steinreich Communications, says his consulting firm uses “skip meetings” where top executives meet directly with junior hires. “This removes the mid-level management and gives the CEO or senior management a better handle on thoughts and ideas, as well as what’s working and what isn’t and offer suggestions.”
5. Listen Rather Than Hear
Kuczmarski runs a consulting firm with her husband, both of whom lectured at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. She amplifies the point that employees need to know they’ve been heard. “It’s crucial that the listener acknowledges that the message has been received,” Kuczmarski says. “An active listener will communicate that they are with you in any number of ways. Their eyes are alert, they may nod their head and verbally acknowledge that they have understood an idea or add information.”
She offers seven ways to improve your listening:
- Ask yourself if you’re being attentive.
- Accept what the speaker is saying.
- Consider whether you’re trying to understand and clarify.
- Think about whether you’re able to see your own views changing.
- Encourage the speaker.
- Paraphrase what the speaker says.
- Provide praise or positive reinforcement.
- “If you follow these guidelines,” she says, “you will not only listen more deeply, but also gain much more out of conversations.”
6. Give Others a Voice
Kuczmarski offers a number of examples from her research where companies foster listening, including letting others run meetings to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit, holding one-on-one meetings with each employee several times a year, and running monthly, 30-minute ‘wrap-up’ meetings with the entire company, followed by dinner and a happy hour.
“Leaders can create methods or forums that allow others to communicate their needs, problems and issues,” she says. “This creates a sense of togetherness and a feeling that we are heard in the organization.”