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In a world where technology is the primary method of communication, it’s easy for messages to be misconstrued. Communication is one of the most important skills that we master for work and in life. If you think about it, no matter what type of organization you run, you’ll be able to think of a recent communication issue that has come up. That is why the topic of employee communication is so important.
We wanted to find the best actionable employee communication tips, so we decided to interview a workplace therapist. We had the honor and privilege of sitting down with Brandon Smith, whose main job is to come up with leadership strategies to repair workplace dysfunction. Brandon has been featured in Fast Company, on TEDX, The New York Post, NBC, Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and more. Recently, we sat down with Brandon to ask him several questions based on his experience of over 20 years as a workplace consultant and therapist on the topic of improving employee communication.
As Brandon puts it
“People either communicate effectively or not effectively. Today it’s more on the not effectively than it is on the effectively.”
Take a look at the interview below to learn better ways to communicate with your team.
How to Improve Employee Communication with Workplace Therapist, Brandon Smith
What is your role in helping companies to improve employee communication?
The best way to answer that question is to relate it to my purpose, to eliminate all workplace dysfunction. I do this several ways I offer leadership/management and communication classes at Georgia State & Emory University, I do workshops for companies, I offer coaching and work with leaders individually and then I even do a little bit of consulting on how they can be a better leader.
What are three keys to improving employee communication?
Sure. I’ve got three for you. Before I do that let me take a step back and share why employee communication is so bad today regardless of what workplace I’m helping. There’re two main factors that everyone is dealing with. One, time is everyone’s most precious resource and two everything is urgent all the time. When time is your most precious and everything is urgent, the first thing that goes out the window is communication. So, people just stop telling folks what’s going on.
Here are three steps to improve employee communication that can apply to any organization
The first step is clarity. Create clarity around vision, clarity around expectations, clarity around goals. Spend a lot of time doing that. Do a lot of that hygiene upfront. And when you don’t do this, people guess and inevitably you’re going to have people going off on paths you don’t want them to and that’s how rumors start. That’s another big principle in communication, in absence of communication, people assume the worst. If you don’t communicate your strategy, if you don’t communicate your vision, if you don’t communicate what’s going on, people say oh my gosh the ship is sinking I need to go find another job. For example, one of my clients came to me this week and told me that someone in my organization spread a rumor that I’m about to do mass layoffs. So, clarity is really important.
The second step is consistency. Consistency is key is because, at a time when everything is urgent, you need to have regular touch points and communication. It could be to share a status update once a week with your team. You need that regular touch point and you should never ever cancel it. Consistency is foundational to helping people get a sense of being grounded and stable. It’s true for people in the workplace, it’s true for raising children and even training dogs. I had a guest on my podcast who won the Westminster dog show and the theme of what we talked about on the show as to what was key in the training that eventually led to winning the show was consistency. So, consistency is the key. Take your time when you’re going to communicate and stick with your plan no matter what.
The third step is transparency. Here’s what I mean by transparency. Transparency is being honest with folks. People can handle things a lot more than we give them credit for. So, I was dealing with a client back in 2008-2009 and they were a homebuilder. The owner of the business came to a meeting I was doing and the people in the room could feel the recession was coming. They could sense the homebuilding industry was getting ready for a burst.
And he (the leader of this company) walked into the room and he said:
“Hey folks this is going to be bad, it’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen and we’re going to have to tighten our belts. It’s going to be hard but we’re going to get through it together. Here’s what it’s going to look like over the next couple of years and I don’t know how long this is going to last.”
However, he told them with a manner of matter of factness and he remained calm. After he finished telling them, you could feel the whole room just give a big sigh of relief. When you see scary things happening ahead, tell your organization in a matter of fact & calm way. Here’s what I see. Here’s what I know, here’s what I don’t know but together we’ll figure it out. That will reduce the anxiety in the whole organization and everyone will be able to focus better. I think leaders think in a similar way as parents often do. If we tell the truth to our organization or to our children they’ll get freaked out and it will make them more anxious. So, what we do is, we hide it, and that does not work because people can sense there’s something going on. And when we handle things in this way, people fill the communication gap by making up a big scary story about a monster under the bed. This is human nature. Or another good example is, a leader in your company who knows they’re sick, but they don’t know what their diagnoses is. If you see an iceberg, tell the folks there’s an iceberg coming. Don’t say it will be fine, tell them there’s an iceberg but we’ll get through it together but don’t sugar coat it. If you see scary stuff, tell everybody. They can handle it. Now I do want to honor the fact that at the senior leadership level often times there are some things they frankly can’t be transparent about because they’re in the works and I get that. For example, you have to do a merger/ acquisition and you can’t say anything till that is complete. I understand that but when it comes to vision and strategy and scary threats you really want to make sure you attend to those and say those.
We appreciate the opportunity to have been able to interview Brandon on this topic. Stay tuned in the coming weeks to hear more from Brandon in this series we’ve put together on how to improve employee communication. In the meantime, check out this awesome HR technology tool to help improve employee communication and to help you to create a culture of recognition.