As a manager, half of your job is communications related. Whether you are giving directions to your workers, updating your manager about the department’s current operations and needs, or discussing with your peers how you can work together more successfully, an effective communication style may make all the difference.
Let me share two managerial experiences with you.
In the first, John repeatedly told his employees that he didn’t want everyone to take their lunch break at the same time, yet day after day at 12:30 the office would be empty.
In the second, Marge felt she was ready for a promotion and went into her manager’s office to explain why. But, as she later told some friends, “I never got to raise the issue. I think my boss deliberately avoided the discussion.”
What Went Wrong
Neither of them made an effort to be understood or checked to be sure that they were heard.
There are some basics that all managers should know:
- Be direct when the situation demands it. Say what you mean clearly. Do not garble your message behind phrases that obscure or soften its impact.
- When making a request or giving a directive, be polite. Don't snap at an employee.
- Take a moment to think before speaking. What is it you really want to say? What emotions do you want to express?
- Be certain the time is appropriate for communicating. Praise is usually welcome at any time, but criticism of an employee's work should be avoided when he or she has one foot out the door and is leaving for a three-day weekend.
How do these rules apply to the earlier situations? First, John should have explained to his staff why coverage of the department was critical to the organization. He might have suggested that the staff work with him to prepare a schedule to ensure that each employee would be given alternating responsibility to cover the department during the noon lunch time.
Marge's example illustrates that communication problems aren't limited to managers. Some employees find it just as difficult to make an impact when communicating to a supervisor. That was Marge's dilemma. The key to successful communication for Marge would have been preparation.
Let’s assume you have an idea to present to your manager or you want to make a request, such as Marge’s request for a promotion. Choose a time when you know your manager is free. Even make an appointment with him or her. Most important, come prepared. For instance, Marge should have brought documentation on her accomplishments over the past two years. It wouldn’t have hurt, either, if she had alerted her boss to the purpose of the meeting. Even if she didn’t get what she wanted, her boss would be aware of her aspirations and might have used the time prior to the meeting to come up with a compromise offer—maybe, a bonus.
Marge should also have practiced beforehand the most economical way to present her case. Wordiness can lose a listener’s attention. Further, Marge should have prepared her case in a manner so that she didn’t play all her cards at once. She could have pointed to some of her past accomplishments. If her manager hesitated, she could have gone into greater detail, stressing how her efforts had significantly helped her manager. Copies of her past performance assessments would have also been handy, had they supported her desire for a promotion.
Marge shouldn't have left without leaving the door opened for subsequent discussion of a promotion. For instance, she could have told her boss, “I’d like to think through your concerns to see what I can come up with. May I come back?”
Florence Stone is editor of Executive Matters and editorial director of MWorld¸ both publications of American Management Association.