Helping Your Team Become Better Communicators

Helping your team become better communicators

Are your employees effective communicators?

Sadly, the answer to that question in today’s work environment is often a resounding “no.” When projects are not successful, poor communication is often the culprit. When employees leave firms, ineffective communication is one of the top reasons.

Lack of communication skills is frequently viewed through a lens of being generational. “The youngest workers grew up as digital natives and just don’t have good social and communication skills in the workplace.” We hear this a lot. And while in certain instances that may be true, the fault is not theirs: companies should be providing communication skills training. Furthermore, when projects derail due to communication, it is usually a senior leader—or leaders—who causes or allows the issues. When employees quit their managers because of the lack of meaningful, intentional communication, it is not the “younger workers” who are not properly communicating but their managers.

In working with clients of all sizes, we often witness a lack of effective, honest communication at the senior leadership or even board of director levels. Every employee of a company, entry level through most senior leaders, needs to have robust interpersonal and communication skills to be successful. A company’s relationships with clients rely on this. A company’s future opportunities require this. A company’s ability to recruit and retain staff is dependent on this.

As the work environment becomes increasingly automation-focused and artificial intelligence-driven, the importance of effective communication will only increase. Soft skills are already viewed as equal or more important than hard skills in many industries, and technology will continue to elevate this trend.

Which Communication Skills are Essential?

“Communication” itself is not a skill, but it has many different components. These include:

Active Listening is listening with the intent to understand, not just respond. A human’s attention span is less than ten seconds, so listening actively requires consistent, intentional behaviors. If someone is not listening actively, they are missing out on valuable information (verbal and non-verbal) that they are being given, and this is where communication challenges can occur.

Creating Safe Spaces is necessary for meaningful two-way communication to occur. When someone feels that they have a safe space, they will be more honest, open, and vulnerable, and as a result, they will share more ideas, ask critical questions, and feel that they can safely challenge another’s viewpoint—or even the status quo.

Elevating Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is about self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy, and motivation. Being aware of how one is coming across, thinking before speaking, feeling comfortable when interacting with others, putting oneself in another’s shoes, and continually finding ways to stay motivated through mundane and difficult situations are all elements of emotional intelligence.

Building Trusting Relationships is a critical component of any team dynamic. Whether one is trusted or trusts others, one must work daily to build and maintain relationships. We need to become trusted advisors to our clients, trusted partners to our coworkers, and trusted mentors to our direct reports. But trust must be built and then sustained. Without high levels of trust, communication may be misinterpreted or totally avoided.

Communicating Appropriately with Others, which is based upon their behavioral style. Some people prefer short and sweet communication. Others prefer high levels of detail. In conversations, some want the conversation to proceed at a faster pace, others at a more moderate level. Some want to talk about social activities, families, and friends, while others are strictly business. If we understand one’s communication preferences, we can alter our communication approach as appropriate.

Recognizing our Biases, which we all have. Everyone views the world differently based on upbringing, education, geographic location, gender, race and ethnicity, life experiences, and much more. This implicit bias exists, in some way, within everyone. To succeed at team communication, we need to recognize that our viewpoint is merely one viewpoint, and everyone’s opinion is valuable.

Leading Uncomfortable Conversations is a specific area where communication often derails. We like the people around us and don’t want to upset them, so we sweep minor issues under the rug instead of having open, honest, and safe conversations. Then, those minor issues become major ones, leading to hurt feelings and maybe even the end of a relationship. Honesty and transparency are critical to successful relationships.

Managing Conflict, which is a skill required when two or more people are interacting, each bringing their unique ideas, experiences, and biases. It could be two team members simply having different opinions on what is best for the client or the company. Or it could be outright frustration and anger that a client or coworker may harbor against a firm or team member. If one understands how to manage inevitable areas of conflict – or disagreement – communication can be the solution, not the problem.

Reading Body Language is necessary to truly understand a person’s feelings or viewpoints. Communication is not just spoken words but also the accompanying tone, expressions, and gestures that provide the “full” message being delivered. Yet if one is not successful at truly understanding both what and how something is being said or reading between the lines, they are missing out on an important component of communication.

Verbal Communication is how one vocalizes one’s interactions with others. A few words can have very different meanings based on tone and pace (and body language). If using highly technical terms or acronyms, the speaker is not creating a safe space for conversation. Furthermore, they may, in fact, come across as arrogant or condescending. Verbal communication is part words and part the way those words are delivered.

Written Communication, which is about emails, text messages, chat messages, social media posts, letters, proposals, memos, studies, and more. Much of a team’s communication will be written, and it is very easy to have one’s words misinterpreted without the proper context. Furthermore, certain words and phrases could open the door to potential liability issues for a business.

Effective communication is both an art and a science, and few companies excel in this area. If your team or your firm could benefit from improved communication, check out the upcoming Stambaugh Ness workshop, Improving Team Communication. This interactive workshop will be delivered over two 2-hour sessions and is appropriate for employees at all company levels. Learn more here:

improving team communication workshop

Scott D. Butcher, FSMPS, CPSM