All Roads Lead to Communication


It doesn’t matter who you are or what industry you’re in: if you’re struggling at work, the odds are, your communication needs a fix.

“No way!” you think, “We’re struggling because we’re not hiring the right people.” This means you haven’t assessed or communicated what you truly need to your managers, your recruiters, or your candidates.

“Nay!” you say, “It’s because our employees have lost their passion.” This means you haven’t ironed out, effectively shared, and/or gained buy-in for your vision and purpose. Or, you haven’t hired the right people for your vision. See point one above!

“Never!” you yell, “It’s the economy.” This is one of my personal favorites because “the economy” is “happening” to everyone, and everyone is not flailing. What this means is that you haven’t showed or told your team members that you care enough to recognize and compensate them in non-monetary, meaningful ways when times are tight. & if your times are tighter than usual and it really is a deviation, you can simply . . .tell everyone what’s going on and give them the option of staying to pitch in, or beginning their search in a non-hostile environment before they find themselves jobless. Loyalty will go a long way there, too, but you’ve got to open up a little!

We could give more examples, but in my experience, no matter the scenario, it all boils down to what we say to, and show, our people. If you disagree, or know you’re killing it with your communication and culture, that’s awesome! Please comment what you’re doing and help out the rest of us 🙂 If you reflected and realized your communication approach could use a little work, what’s next? How can we take steps to improve our communication throughout our work day, when our jobs as HR and/or leaders can be so sensitive? We can start with a small list, and go from there!

  • Be prepared. When possible, particularly when sharing new information, gather answers to the questions you anticipate before making any kind of announcement or update, so you can share them in real time or in follow-up messaging. If you don’t have all of the information you want, but you tell everyone you’ll follow up to get them answers, then follow through and keep it timely. If you’re just as in the dark as everyone else, take it upon yourself to pull key people into a room to get whatever information you can to guide others. Model what you’d like to see, and do what you can to set the company, & yourself, up for success in times of transition.
  • Keep your managers informed. Managers are our first line of defense: they see most of our employees day in and day out, sit alongside them in the trenches, and ideally know more about them than we ever will. If they know what’s going on and that new initiatives or decisions are in everyone’s best interest, they will gladly diffuse challenges, dispel myths, and settle their teams before rumors have a chance to get out of hand. Yet, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen information shared with managers and their team members at the same time, or with less than 24 hours to spare. They hear new information while sitting next to the people who report into them, & as human beings, they get confused and then frustrated, too. Next time, whether it’s a less complicated employee relations issue or a full-on transformation, loop them in ahead of time so they can process their own emotions and get their questions and concerns addressed before their teams find out: this can only help you form the united front you’ll surely need.
  • Trust more often than not. Along the same lines as above, trust is crucial for everyone, not just managers. When one of your people is upset or curious about a situation, sit down with them and openly share what you can. Does this mean you should breach confidentiality or alert them that even you feel like the sky is falling? Not necessarily. Can you say, “This might change so I’d like to keep this confidential so as not to cause challenges down the line, but here’s what I understand is happening/can share . . .” Most people will just be happy to be heard and out of the dark, and can at least temporarily go back to being more productive and calm. Can a gossip occasionally slip through the cracks and take what you say out of context? Sure! We’ve all been burned, but don’t let fear stop you from being a light for those who are mature enough for the truth and your trust.
  • Tone matters. Yes, we’re all human beings. While vulnerability is crucial and emotions can be impactful, it isn’t optimal to show disrespect, negative sarcasm, or rudeness. If you find yourself saying, “I’m just blunt,” “They don’t get me,” “They’re too sensitive,” or any variation of this more often than not . . . the problem might be you. Even if your message isn’t negative, assess how you’re delivering it. Although this is hard, it isn’t impossible! In your next potentially upsetting or challenging conversation, take a breath and put yourself in the other person’s shoes before responding. Also, before going into a meeting you know will be challenging, go back to tip number one above and prepare: ask yourself how you’d like to receive new information, and what information would be important to you. Then model that behavior and transparency for more of a win-win.
  • Don’t assume your vision is crystal clear. How many times have you said or heard, “Didn’t I already say this? How does So-and-So not know this is going on?” We’ve all played the game telephone. But we still sit in small meetings and make comments, delegate messages to distracted peers, and assume that the right message made it to the right people as soon as we leave the room. If only it worked this way! Moving forward, make sure you directly send/say/share the information with the intended recipients, or check in with your team to make sure everyone’s on the same page before assuming all is well. Note: this doesn’t mean you have to micromanage or take everything on yourself. This tip is more helpful if you’ve found yourself wondering what’s going on more times than you can count, and need to recalibrate. If you and your team are aligned and this isn’t a problem for you, all the better, and please feel free to share how you got there!
  • Remember that the little stuff counts. Whether you set a calendar reminder that pushes you to send a follow-up announcement to a group, or add “Say ‘thank you’ to a team member” to your to-do list, it only takes 28 days for new behaviors to become a habit! The more you reflect and share, the more relationships and loyalty you build, & the easier transparency becomes across the board.

There’s always more to say when it comes to communication (ha!), but these are a few of my go-tos! & if you need inspiration to get back on track, think of Warren Buffet’s wise words: “Without good communication skills, you won’t be able to convince people to follow you, even though you see over the mountain and they don’t.”

Ultimately, all of our challenges start and end with us, and what we put out there! Whether it’s through our actions or our words, we send a message to people. What do you want yours to say?

What about you? What challenges have you faced or had to overcome with your or your company’s communication? What other tips do you have when it comes to effective communication at work? Thank you for reading, and please feel free to comment or reach out any time! I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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