Last reviewed 9 June 2016

“Communication is a two-way process” is a sentiment that most people will agree with. Employees often cite poor communication as one of the major problems within their workplace. Employers often believe that they are brilliant at communicating with their staff. Why the difference? Val Moore explains the need to bring both sides together and the employer, or manager, needs to lead by example.

It starts at the induction of a new employee. At this stage the person needs factual information: job descriptions, details of their contractual duties (usually in the form of a contract of employment and/or staff handbook), details of the provision’s policies and procedures and so on. People cannot comply with things they do not know about. They also need support at this time to be able to ask questions and seek clarification on matters they perhaps do not fully understand.

Managers know these things backwards, but they do need to keep in mind that new employees have to cope with a lot of new information given to them over a short period of time and will not absorb everything at the first attempt. Be patient, listen, question and support. It takes a lot of resources to employ new members of staff. Don’t let them go just because they feel they are being overwhelmed with information they do not fully understand and they are afraid to ask. More information can be found in the topic Induction.

We communicate via the written word and by speech. Before launching into “print” take a few minutes to consider what it is you are trying to achieve. Break the message down into a series of points that need to be communicated. Short sharp points, or sentences, are better than a rambling dialogue where the recipient has to try and separate what is interesting from what is unnecessary. It is usually helpful to give oneself a few bullet points to keep thoughts on track.

  1. Explain the purpose of the communication.

  2. Put the items in order of importance.

  3. (If the communication is written) use clear headings, and numbering if appropriate.

  4. It can be useful to summarise at the end (meetings and long communications in particular).

Do:

  • communicate important, sensitive or controversial information face-to-face

  • accept, and be prepared, to be unpopular if the news is unexpected or consists of things your audience doesn’t want to hear.

Telephone

The telephone is fine for instant communication, but you could be interrupting the person being called. It is ideal where information is needed quickly, or a decision is needed quickly. Use points 1 & 2 above.

Email

Email is often the communication of choice, particularly where there is a lot of information to given and/or the need to send supporting documentation. Use all points 1 to 4 above. In a business environment keep things business-like. Although seen as less formal than a letter, an email will be on record for all time (and is more easily circulated than a letter), so be professional. Don’t use jargon or abbreviations. Be precise, because if you are not, this can lead to misunderstandings.

Don’t assume that the recipient is poised over their email account awaiting a communication. People often do not pick up or reply to emails immediately and thus emails should be used as a less urgent means of communication. If the matter is urgent, you could make a telephone call to say an urgent message is on its way and this should ensure it goes to the top of that person’s to-do list.

Never send an email without giving it exactly the same thought as you would a letter — “consider before you post”. Also consider: do so many people need to be copied in?

Text

Texts are instant and usually short, but best used between people who know each other well. Text can so easily be misunderstood in a variety of ways. Use with caution; again, they are very easy to recirculate.

Letters

The old fashioned letter has a certain gravitas. More formal than emails, and often more formally written than emails, they are useful for giving or confirming important information (eg a job offer or contractual agreements) and not so easy to ignore (delete) as an email. They are useful, for instance, for “thank you” letters to sponsors. Letters are unusual — they help the provision stand out.

Meetings

Use all four points above.

  • Make the objective of each meeting clear and circulate an agenda in good time.

  • Keep discussions focused on the agenda.

  • After discussing each point, assign responsibility to an individual to complete the agreed action by a certain date.

  • End by summing up the important points.

  • Circulate minutes promptly.

  • If people are absent, make sure they are copied with any relevant information, and inform any other people affected by decisions taken at the meeting.

More information can be found in the article Making meetings effective

Formal presentations and speeches

Use all four points above.

  • Summarise what you are going say, say it, then summarise what you have said.

  • Use prompts such as PowerPoint slides.

  • Do not write the speech in its entirely — use prompt notes.

  • Speak a little louder and more slowly than you normally would.

  • Use visual aids carefully, such as PowerPoint presentations, flip charts and whiteboards, when presenting or gathering ideas or trying to work out solutions to problems.

Also see the articles Public speaking and How to write a speech.

To reiterate, communication is a two-way process.

It is about trust

  • Talk to people. Listen rather than talk. A good adage is “you have two ears and one mouth, use them in those proportions”.

  • Know and understand individuals, learn what their interests are, their fears, their motivations.

  • Be approachable.

  • Be seen as trustworthy, so employees will bring a problem to you before it becomes serious.

  • Do not make promises you cannot keep, or do not intend to keep.

  • Be prepared to take criticism and to hear things you might not like. However:

    • do not take it personally, but listen — is there any truth in what is being said?

    • do not make excuses; accept when you have made a mistake — offer an apology and rectify the mistake.

And finally, from Rania Al-Abdullah: “We are stronger when we listen, and smarter when we share.”