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If you are a manager or leader who thinks that team meetings are for cascades, you’re so 19th century.
Cascades are almost always a one-directional, keep-quiet-and-listen leadership practice that gives you the illusion that communication is taking place. Maybe it does but there’s a big—and risky—possibility that you and others in the team will come out of the interaction with different, even contrasting, interpretation. And you wonder why your people aren’t so engaged?
Open, two-way discussions during team huddles are the way to go. This approach fosters better working relationships within the team and helps improve employee engagement. There’s research to prove this.
The Watson Wyatt Communication Return-on-Investment (ROI) Study showed that firms that communicate effectively are:
- 20 percent more likely to report lower turnover rates,and
- 4 times more likely to report high levels of employee engagement than firms that communicate less effectively.
“Workers’ frustration with an absence of adequate communication is one of the most negative findings we see expressed on employee attitude surveys.” –David Sirota in the article “Why Employees Are Losing Motivation” published in the Harvard Management Update
A study of more than 1,400 leaders and managers by global consultancy Ken Blanchard Group supports this. The research showed 41 percent felt that inappropriate use of communication or listening was the biggest mistake leaders made when working with others.
So let’s avoid making that biggest mistake by improving our communication style. To start, here are seven questions to ask—and answer.
1. What’s the matter?
It’s not so much about how much you should say, but what your message really is. Sometimes we get lost in worrying about too much or too little information that we forget the key point. What’s your key message?
Managers are in the best position to put context and background to information for their team, to make sure that details are made relevant without losing the big picture. What does the information mean to your department?
2. So what?
The meat of the matter is essential, but have you communicated why your message is important? Some managers follow a 60-40 rule:
- spend 40 percent discussing the “what”
- the 60 percent discussing the “why”
The percentage doesn’t really matter; the point is not missing out on talking about “what’s in it for us?” Not doing so increases the risk of people speculating on the real reasons, or worse, concluding based on incomplete information.
Why is that action plan important? Why is the idea worth embracing? Why does the company need to focus on that strategy? Why that choice over another? Why now?
3. Now what?
We sometimes focus too much on the information that we forget what we want our people to do. Before starting out any communication activity, you can write on a piece of paper your central ideal statement separate from your results statement.
Central idea statement: “This (memo/speech/discussion) is about (your key message).”
Results statement: “After reading/hearing my (memo/speech/discussion), I want my staff to (what do you want them to do?).”
The American Management Association goes even further with its Results Matrix format:
- you first tell your people what you want them to know (facts),
- then what you want them to believe (beliefs),
- then what you want them to feel (emotions),
- and finish it with what you want them to do actively (actions).
4. Are you done yet?
One misconception in leadership communication is that managers must do all the talking. Please pass the mic, so to speak. Encourage your team to raise questions, voice their concerns, share with you their impressions, give you feedback. This is one way for you to know if they understood your key message and what you expect of them.
A team huddle, after all, must be a dialogue, a discussion, not a monologue. It’s not just information dissemination, but also facilitating common understanding in your team.
5. Can you really hear me?
Opening the lines for feedback or bottom-up communication is futile if you only pretend to listen or pretend to care about what your team shares. Such pretentious behavior shows no matter how much you play up the performance—your people can sense if you are merely hearing them out or really emphatically and actively listening to them.
Do you notice the nuances in the manner of speaking? Are they telling you something they aren’t openly saying? Do you notice the fear in the tone? What about the excitement in the voice? Do they look bored? Words are not your only best source for feedback.
6. Can you really hear yourself?
Being authoritative is necessary, but when you overdo it by talking down on your people or making them feel stupid, they might fight back by talking about you behind your back. You become tagged as the monster boss.
But who gives a damn about labels, right? We can be a monster, alien, ugly old wart all rolled into one, but we don’t really care because we know what we are mandated to do as leaders. The labels might seem harmless, but these are surface indicators of deep-seated issues with long-term effects: your people withdraw support, they avoid initiating, they clam up during discussions, they don’t give their all, they don’t give their best.
7. Say that again?
When there is inconsistency between what you say and your non-verbal cues, your people believe the nonverbal cues more than your verbal message. So mind your manner, or better yet, be transparent. People can see through lip service or trying to appear authentic, and result is: they lose trust in you. And we all know the result when trust is broken, so do we need to say more?
We can’t be perfect managers or leader, but we can be more effective communicators so we can better engage our team with our idea, action plan, decision, vision, and ultimately, with the organization.
So when is your next team huddle?