How to Suck Less

Management has the bulk of responsibility when it comes to communicating with front line employees. Many managers suck at it. I’ve shared some reasons why they suck.  So how can managers suck less?

Remember school? You read books and stuff. Pretend you’re back in school. Study effective communication techniques and strategies. There are about 10 critical communication skills and techniques (coming soon), and all but one of them can be learned and/or borrowed from experts. Business communications is a huge topic with lots of How To literature. Read some and apply it.

Bent? Fix it.

Ask YOUR boss questions until you can answer your employees questions. Most business communication is outcome-based. You are sharing information so others are prepared, persuaded, informed, etc. Change communication (especially around bad news) is very specific. It has a cause (sometimes called drivers or forces) and a reaction (the corporate response). Make sure you can address the cause of change and the corporate response to the change. But most of your preparation time should be spent trying to finish this employee-specific information: “Here’s what this change will likely mean to you…” And don’t lie or soft-pedal. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, you’re an ass, and I won’t trust you again.

Make employee communication regular, constant, and frequent. If the only time you come out of your office is to announce bad news, employees are going to nail your door shut. Rotten kids think they have Santa all figured out. They can be terrors until December 15-ish. Then they can change their ways, fool Santa, and get all of the loot in the world. Pretty predictable, right? If you have a tell, don’t play poker. And work to vary the contents and patterns of your communication so your employees won’t run when they see you coming.

Ask your employees how they’re doing and what they’re hearing. Years ago I had a boss who would make a point to see me every night during my shift, and she would ask, “Watcha doin’, watcha hearin’?” That was her style and within her comfort zone. By her repetition and normalization of the question, I felt like I could take her up on it. One time I did. I heard we were being spun off our parent company. When I asked her, she said, “Me, too. But I’ve heard that before. My boss told me that if we go our own way, the new company is going to need all of us to come with them.” Whatever phrase you use, ask your employees to keep you informed. They may have a more accurate “word on the street” than you do.

Some managers are natural-born communicators and excel in this part of the role. Others need to study, practice, and put in some extra hours. And like most things at work, the feedback that should matter most to you about your effectiveness should come from the customer…in this case, your employees.

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