How Managers Can Improve Communication at Work

How can managers improve their communication in the workplace? Can managerial communication skills make a difference to the team?

Managers can improve their communication in the workplace by building relationships with their employees one-on-one, even in upper management positions. Improved trust and communication lead to a greater understanding of expectations.

Read more about the importance of communication skills for managers and how managers can improve communication in the workplace with these insights from Camille Fournier’s The Manager’s Path.

Importance of Communication Skills for Managers

Clear communication is one of the most important skills for a manager to have, according to Fournier. Maintaining clear communication has three main benefits:

  1. It increases effectiveness by ensuring your team (or teams) understand your expectations and their tasks.
  2. It improves problem-solving by ensuring you understand your project’s current status. You’ll notice any issues as they emerge and solve them more quickly and easily, instead of only noticing them when they’ve grown more damaging and harder to fix.
  3. It increases rapport by helping you build relationships with your team members. These relationships help your team feel safe enough to innovate—they’re comfortable in the group, so they can take risks without fear of repercussions if they make mistakes. 
The Importance of Rapport In Communication

Fournier describes increased rapport as a benefit of clear communication, and some business experts suggest that increasing rapport makes it easier to communicate, too. When you’ve built positive relationships with your team members, they’re more likely to listen to your feedback and care about what you say. In turn, this can help increase your team’s efficacy, as they’re more likely to implement your feedback, complete tasks, and meet your expectations.

Increasing rapport may also help with problem-solving. One professional development expert says that rapport is often the first step to building trust; and when people trust you, they’re more likely to tell you their thoughts and concerns. Thus, increasing rapport may encourage your team to be honest about their problems, helping you recognize and solve them faster. Increasing rapport is one of the best ways managers can improve their communication in the workplace because it allows information to flow freely in both directions.

Your methods of communication and your main goal will change as you’re promoted. Here we’ll retrace the career path Fournier lays out, examining the way your communication responsibilities evolve and her advice for communicating effectively.

Communicating Clearly as a Junior Manager

As a junior manager, your communication goal is to increase trust and camaraderie between you and your team and among your team members. Increasing trust and camaraderie makes your team members feel safer psychologically, which helps you and your team work together cohesively. Trust also helps you integrate new hires and give feedback more effectively. Learning how managers can improve communication in the workplace at this level centers around learning how to build trust.

(Shortform note: Without trust, team cohesion collapses because your team members are focused on protecting themselves instead of supporting each other, some business experts say. This can lead employees to compete with each other and refuse to communicate openly, which could make it harder to integrate new members into the team or communicate feedback. For example, in an untrusting team, Employee A won’t share information with Employee B because she’s afraid Employee B will take all the credit and she won’t be seen as a useful member of the team. Instead, she keeps quiet until Employee B’s project fails, then uses her knowledge to solve the problem and get the credit. In this case, managerial communication skills could improve the effectiveness of the team by encouraging both employees to be open and honest.)

Increase trust and camaraderie between you and your team by scheduling regular one-on-one meetings, Fournier says. By meeting regularly, you learn what kind of managerial style each member of your team responds best to, what their goals are, and if they’re having any issues. This helps you know how to support them, and your individualized support in turn increases trust. Managers can improve communication in the workplace by working with each employee in the way that suits them best.

(Shortform note: When building rapport, body language is important, some experts say. Showing welcoming body language helps you connect with others by reducing conflict (making them feel safer). To help your employees feel comfortable and heard in meetings, keep your body language open and attentive: Uncross your arms, smile, and lean toward them a little. This welcoming body language may make the other person more likely to discuss their preferred managerial style, their goals, and any issues they’re dealing with.)

Increase trust and camaraderie among members of your team by encouraging them to get to know each other outside work. As they learn about each other, it’ll be easier for your team members to form relationships and build trust. You can encourage this when in a group by starting a discussion about everyone’s interests and activities outside of work. The importance of communication skills for managers lies not only in improving your relationships with members of your team, but also in encouraging them to improve relationships with each other.

(Shortform note: Encouraging members of your team to get to know each other outside work may have other benefits, too. According to Kim Scott in Radical Candor, integrating work with the rest of your life can improve your mental health and happiness. This is because work isn’t separate from the rest of your life: The time and energy you spend on work isn’t taken from your life or vice versa. It’s all part of your life. Getting to know each other can help your team members eliminate this false divide, letting their work and home lives enrich each other instead of competing for their time and energy.)

Communicating Clearly as Upper Management

Once you reach upper management, your goal shifts to maintaining regular, clear communication with your subordinates. As mentioned previously, communicating regularly helps you recognize issues as they appear so you can resolve them quickly and easily. This becomes especially important as the scale of your responsibilities grows: You’re too busy to examine every project for mistakes and must communicate with your subordinates to learn about problems before they escalate. Because your responsibilities change as you’re promoted, your managerial communication skills will need to evolve too.

(Shortform note: One way managers can improve communication in the workplace is by empowering subordinates to communicate, some management experts say. Employee-initiated communication is important because employees can raise concerns that you might otherwise overlook—which grows more likely as the company’s structure increases in complexity. A clear communication chain ensures that employees at every level know who to contact about what. For example, an employee may contact their manager for general work matters but contact their engineering director if they have issues with their manager.)

One method of maintaining regular, clear communication when managing a large number of people is holding skip-level meetings. Fournier says these are meetings with the people working under your direct reports. Skip-level meetings are important because they give you a broader view of how your teams or department function. It lets you see several perspectives of how projects are proceeding and verify whether your direct reports have been honest with you.(Shortform note: To hold a successful skip-level meeting, HR experts suggest being transparent about the purpose and process of the meeting with both the employee you’re meeting with and your direct report (the employee’s manager). For instance, if you send the employee a list of questions you’re planning to ask, send them to your direct report too. Knowing what questions and topics you’ll discuss with the employee will help your direct report feel comfortable with the meeting, while being in the dark may make them worry that they’re at risk of being fired. In turn, their manager being on board with the meeting can help the employee feel relaxed and willing to give honest feedback, since they don’t feel like they’re going behind their manager’s back. Managers can improve communication in the workplace by taking all of these factors into account and working in harmony with both direct reports and the members of their teams.)

How Managers Can Improve Communication at Work

Becca King

Becca’s love for reading began with mysteries and historical fiction, and it grew into a love for nonfiction history and more. Becca studied journalism as a graduate student at Ohio University while getting their feet wet writing at local newspapers, and now enjoys blogging about all things nonfiction, from science to history to practical advice for daily living.

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