How to Communicate effectively with your employees

Small business communication for managers and employees

Communicating effectively takes work, intentionality, and consistency. If you are struggling with this, you are not alone. In a recent survey of 4,000 employees, a whopping 46% of employees said that they routinely receive confusing and unclear direction.

Many years ago I had the privilege of working with a young lady who served as my admin assistant. She had an uncanny ability to intuit what I would ask for before I actually asked for it.  Our brains were somehow synchronized. It was weird sort of awesomeness. I think it was as close to a superpower as reality will allow.

Having a baby took her away to more important things in life. I lost her from my team. Once upon another time, I hired another young lady to work for me in another company I helped manage. She too was a near-mind reader. I miss her, too. Then I changed companies. To date, these two ladies stand as the only examples of direct reports who could almost read my mind.

When I compare these two remarkable examples to every other work experience in the past, I personally worked hard to be just like that admin assistant for my managers. There was one big challenge, though: no matter how hard I worked for some of them, most of my manages seemed to act like I could actually read their mind. At least that was the only interpretation of events I could come up with at the time.

Over the years I’ve since discovered that the difficulty with managing people is often pretty simple. (At least, it’s simple to the manager, that is!) In short, managers often conclude that employees just don’t seem to do what they need to do. Put another way, they don’t do what the manager expects them to do.

If you’re a manager, how often have you scratched your head thinking to yourself one of the following questions?

  • Why in the world did they do that?
  • Why on earth would they say that?
  • Why in God’s name didn’t they….?
  • Why aren’t they connecting the dots?
  • Why don’t they get it?
  • Insert other why questions here that sometimes give you pause and cause you to feel crazy inside.

Listen carefully: what’s clear inside your head is probably NOT so clear to the people you lead. 

That may offend you. But you’ll be okay. You are a manager or a leader for a reason. You’re probably a good one.

However, the thing that separates most good leaders from great leaders is that great leaders don’t assume their teammates know everything we think they should.

It’s easy to give your people things to do and then assume that they have somehow magically intuited what you’re talking about, why you need it done, how it’s supposed to be done, when, how often, where, etc..

I mean, you try to hire great people, don’t you?

And they should be able to figure it out, right?

So why do we as managers think this way? Why do we treat our teammates this way? Why do managers, in particular, severely suffer from this challenge?

That is an easy answer. It’s because we’re busy! And with so much to do, hitting the bullseye means feeling like we have to be the ones to get it all done by ourselves.

But when we try to do that, we end up harming our most precious resources. How? By not taking the necessary time to educate, instruct, envision and equip them. We are naturally inclined to feel that if we take the necessary time to thoroughly explain and properly delegate, that this will…

  1. Takes precious time away from our other tasks that seem to feel more important, and…
  2. Makes us frustrated because they just ought to know how to do what we need them to do!

Can you be honest with yourself about those two things? If so, then face it. You just end up growing frustrated much of the time, right? 

As managers, we can tend to get frustrated because of two wrong interpretations.

  1. We don’t think they have enough motivation.
  2. We come to believe that they don’t want to spend the time it takes to learn and grow.

Yet in my experience, both as an employee and as a manager, both of these interpretations are profoundly ignorant! Managers believe this about their employees because they don’t consider their own failures to properly educate, instruct, and guide them.

“Make it easy for your team members to understand what you want. Be generous about answering their questions, make their understanding a priority, and foster an environment of open communication and information sharing.” (HBR)

Now, think about how your employees feel. They too just end up growing frustrated because…

  • they genuinely want to do a great job; but…
  • they don’t feel like they know enough; and…
  • they interpret from our frustration that they are doing something wrong and are not measuring up; but…
  • they don’t really know what they are doing wrong and how they are not measuring up; so…
  • they just keep trying harder and harder against the background noise of managerial frustration occupying their headspace; and…
  • they continue to not meet managerial expectations and eventually get so frustrated they want to leave.

Here’s a challenge: show that bullet list to your employees. Then ask them what they think.

Most of them will probably tell you I hit the nail on the head. How did I do it? Because I was that employee once. Well, actually I was that employee many times with many different managers. And then I became a manager and started doing the same thing. And that’s how I discovered the obvious: most managers fall into this trap.

What happens if and when we don’t fix it? We end up interpreting their desire to leave as if they never really cared for the company to start with. We tell ourselves that they never really had a passion for the vision. We conclude that they weren’t an “A” player. They weren’t a good fit for the organization.

All of those things may be true by the time they hand in their resignation. But it’s fair to ask two hard questions.

1. Did we contribute to it by managing them in unhelpful ways?

2. Is it really fair to come to those conclusions about them if we don’t do the simplest thing, like taking the time to thoroughly explain things and make sure they understand?

Good leaders are willing to consider these questions carefully. Great leaders will consider these questions with their employees. Do you want to be a great leader?

Contact Aculign today to request our 360 leadership survey. We send you the survey, you send us your results, and we give you a free executive coaching session to discover how to experience some quick wins in managing your employees better.