Managing communication is now the critical skill for leaders and managers. As we move away from command and control models in organisations, managing the flow of information to and from employees, and among them, is now more important than ever before. The problem is that many managers never learn it formally.
What makes it more complicated these days is that most managers only landed the job because they were technical and operational experts in their field. Communication skills were not necessarily their forte as they managed projects, not people. Also managers these days have to deal with a daily avalanche of electronic communication, quite the opposite of the connection you get when you have a direct face to face conversation. In other words, managers might find it more challenging these days to communicate well.
So if communication is now the core management skill, how do managers pick it up?
Psychology professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne identifies certain essential things that any manager would need. First, and probably most important of all, is that you have to listen and talk second. You also need to do some homework first on the person you’re talking to so that you can ask questions and engage them better. You have to use reflecting skills where you restate what you heard, or what you think you heard. That creates a connection and lets the person know you’ve been trying to take in what they’re saying. Next, zero in on non-verbal detectors. Read bodily cues such as posture, eye contact, and hand movements. Also, don’t make snap judgements, things aren’t always what they seem. Also, finally don’t expect they’re necessarily going to agree with you.
Forbes lays out some basic ground rules for managers: be crisp, clear and concise; put the headline up front and make the most important point first, don’t beat around the bush; make it about the other person and pay attention to the listener; stand up straight and look them straight in the eye and for goodness sake, put away all gadgets; ask open ended questions that will draw them out, like “Can you clarify that point?”; if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything; if you have a negative message to impart, just say it; if you have to deliver bad news, do it in person and don’t do the cowardly thing and hand pass it to anyone else; don’t be a naysayer and if you disagree, frame the disagreement as a question.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review , Boris Grosyberg and Michael Slind identify certain elements of organisational conversation that will help conversations become more interpersonal.
One idea is intimacy: “Conversationally adept leaders step down from their corporate perches and then step up to the challenge of communicating personally and transparently with their people. This intimacy distinguishes organisational conversation from long-standard forms of corporate communication. It shifts the focus from a top-down distribution of information to a bottom-up exchange of ideas.”
Another is gaining trust: “Where there is no trust, there is no intimacy.”
They also tell managers they should listen well: “Leaders who take organisational conversation seriously know when to stop talking and start listening. Few behaviours enhance conversational intimacy as much as attending to what people say.”
And they should get personal: “True listening involves taking the bad with the good, absorbing criticism even when it is direct and personal—and even when those delivering it work for you.”
Grosyberg and Slind write: “Conversation goes on in every company, whether you recognise it or not. That has always been the case, but today the conversation has the potential to spread well beyond your walls, and it’s largely out of your control. Smart leaders find ways to use conversation—to manage the flow of information in an honest, open fashion. One-way broadcast messaging is a relic, and slick marketing materials have as little effect on employees as they do on customers. But people will listen to communication that is intimate, interactive, inclusive, and intentional.”
What measures would you recommend to turn managers into better communicators?