How not to communicate: a lesson from my managers


You can learn a lot from your own mistakes; and also, so I found, from the mistakes of others. Having worked in the distant past for two somewhat “direct” managers, I became very aware of how not to deal with staff. Don’t get me wrong, both of these managers were clever, knowledgable and got things done. But they were poor communicators; and missed an opportunity to get the best from their staff.

Indeed, if they’d listened more, instructed less; and above all took an interest in what I and others were doing, then the organisation would have achieved great things.

What I’m saying is that how leaders and mangers communicate with staff can make a significant difference. Nor am I referring to formal communications that any decent organisation would use such as staff meetings, supervisory meetings, and appraisals. No, I’m referring instead to vital everyday communications in the workplace.

So here are some tips to more effective interpersonal communication with those you lead or manage:

  • Greet your colleagues daily, whether or not you are their line manager. Smile regularly, and find time for the “small talk”.
  • Commit to becoming an active listener. Focus on the speaker, make eye contact, and repeat back what is said to clarify understanding, even when you don’t agree with what is said.
  • Always keep a notebook with you to jot down key issues rather than rely on your memory; and check your notes daily.
  • Conduct regular informal, one-to-one meetings with your team.
  • Encourage feedback and viewpoints from your staff about relevant work issues (e.g. at one-to-ones as well as formal meetings).
  • Report back on your actions, particularly where you say such action will be taken.
  • Praise good work, in person wherever possible, but by email otherwise.
  • Inform all those who need to know, not just a selected few.
  • Communicate with enough notice. On many issues staff will need time to consider and prepare.
  • Ensure confidentiality where it is required.
  • Avoid shouting, demanding or otherwise appearing aggressive.
  • Never “hijack” staff to attend meetings under false pretences, especially when you have to give bad news.
  • Finally, keep things simple. So remember the adage, “fewer words, better sense”.

Of course there is more to leadership and management than communication itself; and there is more to communication than good interpersonal skills. But dealing with people is crucial to these roles; and if through your communications, you demonstrate trust and respect for your staff, they will in turn, respect and trust you back.

Sadly, those managers that shaped my experience of the workplace never achieved any mutual trust and respect. But I certainly leant from their mistakes.

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