Good communication is no accident. In fact, people so often default to miscommunication that it’s a wonder we ever clearly express ourselves at all.
When miscommunication occurs in the workplace, the effects can be devastating. Productivity plummets, frustration mounts, and employee disengagement creeps up. And with the modern workforce as diverse and multigenerational as it is, communication is more important than ever.
There’s no quick-fix silver bullet to make you a better communicator, but there are small steps you can take today that will move you in the right direction.
Below, I’ll cover how to improve communication
Between a manager and a direct report
Between leadership and everyone else
Between your company and your external audience
An engaged employee is a happy employee
Think for a minute about what miscommunication looks like on the ground.
A major change in company strategy is not explained well
Expectations about a design deadline are not clear
An employee evaluation feels like reproach instead of mentorship
A team member is let go without any explanation given to the rest of the team
What happens to individual team members when one of these all-too-common missteps happens? How is their morale affected?
The result is disengagement and frustration — at the very least. When employees feel this way, they are less productive, less happy, and more likely to leave your organization.
Research shows that good, transparent communication improves employee engagement, helping team members feel like they’re being treated fairly and honestly. This also makes workers less likely to leave.
But let’s be honest. Fixing communication at your organization is not an easy task. Because communication itself is so darn difficult, you’ll need to work tirelessly to counteract people’s natural tendencies toward poor communication.
With that in mind, let’s look at some common situations where poor communication hampers performance — and how you can overcome them.
4 steps you can take today to improve company communication
We start at the most basic level: between a worker and his manager. This is where miscommunication can fester, leading to resentment and disengagement.
How to improve communication between managers and direct reports
So, what’s the solution? Train your managers to lead effective 1:1s.
At IMPACT, we have all managers read The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier. In it, the author outlines seven questions to ask in every 1:1 to forge connection, check in, and develop plans.
But that’s not enough. Managers should record all 1:1 meetings and watch them again later. They should pay attention to their own body language, use of follow-up questions, and listening skills.
Twice a year, they should watch their 1:1s with their own manager.
It’s often said that employees don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. And 1:1s are the place to build relationships that offer support and foster growth.
How to improve communication between departments
Miscommunication between departments leads to siloing and fractured alignment. But it can be a relatively easy fix.
In my work with companies, I see most tension and miscommunication between marketing and sales, and the impact is costly. When marketing and sales are not speaking the same language, the customer suffers. Messaging is inconsistent, and the buying experience isn’t smooth.
The solution: Send one person to attend the weekly meetings of the other department.
So, say that the sales team has a weekly huddle on Tuesdays. Someone from the marketing team should attend, listen, and take notes. If, during the meeting, there are questions for the marketing team, this person can either answer or bring the question back to their own team. Then, at the next marketing huddle, the person takes five minutes to report back and get answers to questions.
A member of the sales team does the same thing at marketing meetings.
This person serves as the liaison between departments, sharing insights, answering questions, and, by doing so, breaking down walls.
Rotate your liaison every quarter.
Within a week, you’ll see improved morale and communication.
How to improve communication between leadership and everyone else
This is a big one. It’s up to leadership to communicate major decisions and policies to the whole company. If members of the leadership team get this wrong, all the other communication in the organization doesn’t really matter. Sales and marketing alignment is great, but it can’t save a sinking ship.
The quickest way leadership teams can improve communication is this: Stop sending text-based emails about company matters.
How many times has someone in an organization sent out a text-based email that got misunderstood and caused more problems, more drama than it was supposed to?
I’m not knocking email. It can be a great tool for asynchronous communication, but if you’re sending out an announcement to your team, do it two ways: text AND video.
And one more thing. Please go back over your email and video with one question in mind: Is there any way this can be misinterpreted?
You’d be amazed at how many headaches can be avoided by simply asking this question.
How to improve communication between your company and its audience
But your organization doesn’t just communicate internally. Customers, subscribers, investors, partners, community members — any external group benefits from good communication and suffers from the opposite.
How do you communicate better with your external audience? Don’t hide the truth.
When we work with clients at IMPACT, the first thing we require them to do is openly publish the price of what they sell. It sounds obvious, but so many companies push back. They’ve been doing the “Call for a quote!” thing in the past because the final number is complicated — or because they’re afraid the number will scare people away
I get it. Price can be difficult to talk about.
But remember, your buyers aren’t looking for an exact figure. They just want a ballpark. And if you don’t give it to them, they assume you’ve got something to hide.
The more honest you are up front, the fewer headaches you’ll have in the long term.
Are there shortcomings for your product or service? Who are we kidding — of course there are. You should talk about those, too.
Will you frighten off some potential customers? Maybe, but people want to avoid buyer’s remorse. That’s why they read 1-star reviews. Give them the straight dirt up front so they know everything they can about what they’re buying.
I hear businesses talk about company culture all the time. But hear this: Healthy company culture cannot exist without excellent communication.
In order for your workers to feel valued, supported, and informed, they need the people around them to communicate clearly and openly.
And not only that. To reach their full potential your workers need guidance and coaching, and this cannot happen without great communication.
In 2020, researchers spoke to more than 4,000 knowledge workers about engagement and productivity. They responded with dozens of things that make them feel more connected to their company and their work. No. 1, by far, was clear, frequent communication.
I know it won’t happen overnight, but the more training you can do, the more thoughtful processes you can put in place, the stronger your company will be because of it.