As with any other challenge, the best way to begin is with a plan. You can start by setting up an internal communication strategy, with an infrastructure of best practices. Assess the current level of office communication, both between employees and between management and employees. A simple method to conduct this assessment is by measuring:
- the frequency of top-down messages (how often does management talk to employees);
- the degree to which people know where the company is headed;
- the degree to which employees feel like they played a part in the company’s success.
This way, you’ll have a sharp image of where you stand as a company. Depending on where you want to go, you’ll be able to sift through the various methods of business communication and select the ones that best fit your culture.
Speaking of business conventions, there are companies that rely on voice-rich culture, as this is encompasses both the opportunity to speak up and present ideas, and assuming responsibility for them. This type of environment encourages people to speak up and be confident, while keeping them accountable for their actions and therefore humble. It’s a fantastic way to support employee voice.
Make time to listen. Obviously, executive management are very busy people. Their schedules don’t leave much wiggle room – every item on their agenda has a fixed time and place. Their time is rigorously divided between their high level activities. This can be one of the reasons why people feel reluctant when it comes to voicing their opinions, concerns, needs.
The feeling that management does not have time to listen discourages employees from ever speaking up. Hence, one thing that can strengthen management-staff relationship is openly promoting their availability to listen. Create one or, if possible, multiple time slots dedicated to having contact with employees.
Keep communication channels open. Or how not to promise what you cannot deliver. Failing to respond when employees are looking for your input will be perceived as indifference. Not responding after you’ve purposely publicized that you’re open and willing to hear everyone out is even worse – it shows a lack of integrity and reliability. Choose carefully which (or how many) communication mediums are a direct and dependable method of reaching you; afterwards, make yourself available on those chosen channels..
Actually listen. If you’ve decided to have a conversation with one of the employees (either by appointment or casually by the watercooler), focus on the discussion and the interlocutor alone. Avoid checking your phone, fidgeting as if you couldn’t wait to leave, or leaving an overall impression that you’re being absent. If you really don’t have time to participate in said conversation, it’s better to just excuse yourself and set another time to continue debating the subject.
Be clear. The benefits of effective communication are substantial. Not only does it pave the way for productivity, but it also facilitates establishing friendships and thus builds a company culture based on a sense of belonging. This is a more than valid reason to speak plainly and honestly. Don’t leave room for loose knots or ambiguities, and clarify misunderstandings without exception. Inferring or making assumptions is generally harmful, so steer clear from this type of information exchange technique. When the meeting is over, make sure everyone is on the same page regarding what was discussed.
Instead of waiting for your staff to come to you, you can go to them directly. This will narrow the psychological distance between the two parties. An invitation to lunch or sharing coffee in the morning should be enough to ignite a chatting session. From there on, it’s all about paying attention to the speaker and the subject. Relationships are built on a foundation of trust and mutual respect.
Finally, after all has been said and… said, it’s time to put the plan into action. Actively listening to others is a good start, but it’s only half the journey. When it comes to office communication, it’s important to make your employees feel heard. What that means is that the ones who shared opinions, concerns, needs, should see that their feedback was taken into consideration. Consequently, incorporate their opinions in future company decisions, allay their concerns, and care for their needs. Listen and then act on the information you received.