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We are not unfamiliar with having an unapproachable boss; I cannot tell you how many times the ball was pushed around my colleagues and I just to see who would ask our boss for a simple signature. It wasn’t that he was a complete tyrannical monster who would chew our heads off if we even spoke out of turn, but rather that he was simply unapproachable. Interactions at the workplace between employee and employer are, more often than not, the relaying of instructions and tasks. Anything more than that, we fear for our lives. As employees at some point of our lives, we know exactly how that feels. But as an employer, is that the culture you want to develop amongst your employees?
Communication is key
Much like your personal relationships with your family, friends, or partner, good communication practices at the workplace has its merits. A large number of companies invest a good amount of money to hire trainers and conduct workshops in an attempt to help employees (and employers) gain invaluable communication skills. Verbal or otherwise, proper communication skills can go a long way in improving workplace relationships, as well as improving productivity. When you can communicate well within the workplace, the skills can be transferrable to other situations, especially for companies that deal with international clients and customers.
As an employer, you will have to hire employees from a plethora of backgrounds. These employees have diverse personalities, and not all of them may be able to work well with you or their peers. Having good workplace communication is the social lubricant you need to ensure that conflicts in the office are kept to a minimum – your employees would be able to interact with even the most unpleasant person with tact and poise. There is simply no downside to honing your communication skills at the workplace: both employer and employee need it.
We outline five quick tips on how to encourage good and effective communication at the workplace. Trust us, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Read on!
Tip #1: Always choose diplomacy over deterrence
I know, it sounds like a chapter from a secondary school Social Studies textbook. The same values that our government adopts applies in workplace communication: it is always the safer choice to treat conflicts and spats with care. You would be surprised at how easy and fast it is for an argument about something minor to blow up, and leave wounds that will take forever to heal. We want to avoid that as much as possible. If a problem escalates enough that you’re notified to intervene, remember that you will either make it or break it.
Prevention is always better than cure, so here’s what you can do to minimise conflict. Setting the tone and establishing a conflict-free culture in your office from day one ensures that your employees are used to a safe and peaceful environment. Any argument will hopefully diffuse on its own, because that’s how things work in your office.
Some employers feel like it’s unnecessary, but having an open door policy at the workplace can really help to improve communication between you and your employees. Letting them know that you’re always available to listen to any problems. They may have expedites communication flow, and it’ll also make you more approachable as a superior. Of course, handling conflict must be done in a non-judgemental manner, and it’s absolutely crucial to be impartial. Nipping it in the bud before the issue escalates will help you minimise conflict, and establish an environment that’s safe for you and your employees.
Tip #2: Feed them with feedback
I mean it. One of the biggest gripes that employees have of their employers is that they don’t receive feedback on the work they’ve done. Many of them spend a good amount of effort on their tasks, but never actually find out if they’re heading in the right direction. It’s not just about praising or criticising their work, but also about building a system that encourages discussion and reviewing of work done to ensure what’s done right continues to be done right, and what’s done wrong is changed accordingly.
You might have concerns about the amount of extra work that comes with giving feedback. It’s true – feedback cannot be given for the sake of doing so, it has to be constructive and helpful. Couple that with the amount of reports, forms, and proposals you receive on a daily basis, and you have yourself a new towering stack of documents to deal with. It may be extra work initially, but once you have established a proper feedback system, your employees will then be more familiar with your style of work and what you expect in their tasks. The feedback would then have done its job: setting up good communications between employer and employee.
Your feedback can be given through a few channels. For one, a weekly or fortnightly meeting to update the team on their progress can be opportune to give feedback. If that is too logistically unrealistic, a quick email reply to their submissions can go a long way as well. Otherwise, do it the old fashioned way – face to face conversations. Drop by their desk or call them into your office for a short chat, or simply do it over lunch.
Once the feedback system is working well, you can tailor your feedback to make them more concise. After all, telling your employees that they’ve gone an excellent job never hurts anyone.
Tip #3: Check your negative emotions at the door
I don’t mean be a completely emotionless drone when you enter the office. Emotions are definitely welcome when it comes to positive feedback, or when dealing with sensitive issues at the workplace. But when it concerns conflict or criticism about an employee’s work, it is important to be objective. When you let your emotions get the better of you, you end up delivering an emotionally charged statement that may not work well in your favour. It may also damage working relationships, making communication an even taller order than it was previously.
Try your best not to make criticism personal: instead of saying, “Your work has been disappointingly bad lately!” you can try a less jarring alternative such as, “I’ve noticed that you have been underperforming recently. Is there anything you want to talk about?” While this may not be your immediate response to a piece of badly done work, remind yourself that effective communication is not built overnight. Taking a more tactful and respectful approach can motivate your employees greatly, and improve your mood tremendously.
The three tips above may not be enough to convince you to undertake a reformation to how communication is done at your office. After all, it does take a lot of effort to establish a healthy communication network, especially between employee and employer. Research has shown, however, that Singaporeans prize a good boss over a fatter paycheck. It’s not surprising, though: a good leader leads to motivated workers, which eventually translates to higher productivity and higher salaries. The merits of good and effective communication cannot be underestimated; while it does take extra effort to build up, it’s good for everyone in the long run. Still not convinced? Read our previous article on why communication is important for leaders.