4 steps to change this behavior

Internal communications involves something quite special – working with people. Communications is about relationships. Although this might seem as though this thought is a “no-brainer” on the outset, this is something that is often pushed to the bottom of the priority list.

Those priority lists are what causes the communication breakdown. We have tasks we need to do, goals to meet, products and services to sell. We do not forget the people involved, but we do forget that teamwork is about knowing people and understanding thought patterns and talents.

We become focused on “getting the job done” that we push aside the human factor. The stress levels increase as we push ourselves to meet deadlines. We face computers and machines all day. Social media has been added to the mix, especially if it is part of our role to communicate via these outlets. When a human is in front of us, our brain is in text speak. People do not use full sentences, they have forgotten how to articulate thought and direction and they struggle to make eye contact.

Conversation is becoming a dying art.

Employees are increasingly made to feel that their value is ignored. Their managers are caught in the upheaval of making the business function and they, too, are more focused on tasks as opposed to the people.

Communication is a behavior that not everyone exercises well. We can be taught guidelines, rules and ways to form sentences. We are given instruction as to what to say to employees, maybe how to execute the message, but the delivery cannot be black and white. If it is a challenge for us to relate to people, then we will have little success when responses do not happen as we plan in our heads. Which means if we need to be flexible, we will have trouble discerning when and how to put that flexibility into action.

Employees will then come to the conclusion that you, and the company you represent, are cold, hard-headed and out-of-touch with the rest of the world.

How can you avoid that thinking and relate to your employees? Here are some key items to change your behavior and have positive communication:

1. Reexamine priorities

This is the first area that shuts down vital communications. As mentioned above, we have a lot on our daily to-do list. We are focused on making sure we do our jobs, meet customer expectations and keep the revenue flowing, that we are constantly goal focused and deadline driven.

Are the people who contribute to your cash flow part of your priority list? If not, move them to the top of the list. If they are a part of your everyday priorities, can they become more of a focus to you?

People are the driving force behind our outcomes. The attitudes of people affect the work environment. When employees understand their value, they understand the import of their contributions, and they understand the values and culture of their workplace, then they are driven to create positive results.

People need to feel needed. They are happier when they know they can communicate freely with management and when management is an encouraging driving force for their employees. The workplace environment is an indicator of the overall attitude of the people.

As a manager, your first priority is to manage your people. As a leader, your priority is to lead your people. Your people are a reflection of your management and leadership. How are your employees doing?

Is your environment a welcome place? Or is a negative cloud lingering?

2. Take time for people

As you examine your priorities and recognize more can be done to work with your employees, you will discover a variety of talents and capabilities among you.

Ask yourself: Do I know the names of all my employees? This can be a challenge if you have hundreds of employees, perhaps scattered among divisions. But if you don’t know their names, chances are, their perception of you is not contributing to a productive workplace.

Visit with your employees, especially in their own environment, whether it is in the warehouse or at their desk or cubicle. Learn who they are. This helps diminish the perception that management is “out of touch.”

If they come to you with a question or a concern, stop what you are doing and listen. Don’t brush your people aside and make them set an appointment. Sometimes, they need to be heard at that moment. At least find out the concern.

Have an open door policy. Make it easy for employees to communicate with you and be able to ask questions in person, or even email. Your tone of voice and email responses should always be professional, calm and approachable.

Some managers have set times during the week to invite employees to their office to discuss concerns. Managers are busy, so they do this with the idea that if they have a scheduled time with their employees, this will not interfere with the tasks managers have to complete.

However, employees are busy too. They might have a need, but they cannot meet you at your set time. Or perhaps they need an answer before then. Not only that, you are making them to come to you.

Be flexible. Show them you care about the challenges they are facing. Go to them. Talk with them. Listen to them.

3. Ask questions

Not everyone is going to share challenges with you, either because they fear repercussions or they don’t know how to open up. If they fear repercussions for speaking up, you need to examine that open door policy.

You learn a lot about what is going on inside someone’s head when you ask questions. Don’t do it with the goal of learning the problems they are dealing with necessarily. Asking questions to keep on top of what is happening with the efforts of your hard-working employees is a gateway to discovery.

Avoid simply asking how things are going. Ask specific questions about a current project or task: what they have enjoyed about it, what they are learning, how they foresee the outcome.

Be alert to opportunities to learn about your employees. If you notice an interaction between employees that might be negative, ask them if they enjoy working with the team. Are there any challenges they are facing? Is there any way you can assist?

Ask questions to allow them to express their creativity. If someone has been struggling with a particular task, ask if he has other ideas that might make the task run smooth. Or if a project has been completed, find out what worked and what could have been different. What can they do on future projects that might be better?

Keep your conversations personable and natural. Don’t force questions as if they are under the hot light, but view it as a learning opportunity for you.

4. Listen without distraction

Listening is key when conversing with your employees. Sometimes we ask questions or respond in passing, which means we didn’t hear what the other person said. We also imply by our body language and quick nod of the head that we don’t care what he or she says.

When someone talks to you, stop. Everything. Stop walking, put the cell phone away, turn your back to your computer, stop reading that file.

Your body language will show your employee whether or not you care. If you need to retreat to your office or somewhere quieter to listen to him, do it.

Shut off your mind to all the other things you are in the middle of or have to attend to later. Tune out noises and distractions around you. Take notes if that will keep you focused. After the conversation, repeat key items to make certain you are clear on the issue and to show your employee you heard every word he said.

To communicate effectively, your relationships with your employees are an asset to strengthening your organization. Know who they are so you understand the best ways to keep the communication line flowing.

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