Considering the frequent use of email, videoconferencing, face-to-face meetings, text messages, phone calls, and hand-written notes, one could assume that employers as well as employees have mastered the art of communication in the workplace. However, for most, the frequency by which we use means of communication has no impact on how effectively we communicate.
The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently shared that small businesses lose an average of $420K and large businesses lose $62.4 million annually due to poor communication in the workplace*.
So, where does your company stand when it comes to communication? How effective and articulate are your leaders? How about your staff? I want to share some ideas that should help your business identify and address potential communication problems.
Leverage communication as a recruiting tool
Before you make a hiring decision, be sure to put a candidate’s communication skills to the test. During the interview process, be sure to ask questions that provoke critical thinking and elicit articulate answers. You should also see how well they listen and what questions they ask. Additionally, you may ask them to submit a draft response of a sample inquiry. This allows you to review and evaluate their writing style, tone, grammar, punctuation, etc.
Set Expectations – establishing standards
For existing employees, you should set communication standards, based on simple, common-sense concepts. Your communication standards should include the following components:
- What means to use – inform your staff when to use email versus a phone call, face-to-face meeting, etc. If writing an email, how to clearly state a request, call-to-action, and timing expectations if/when required.
- Tone – Whether communicating verbally or in writing, the tone we use to express our thoughts is what matters most. Finding a balance between what you want to say and how you need to say it takes practice, but it is essential for strong communicators. Understanding your audience and their perception is vital to mastering this skill.
- Responses – When communicating, stress the importance of clearly stating if/when a response is needed, and by when. For customer-facing staff, you may set customer response time standards, etc. Ambiguity can lead to misunderstandings and potential problems.
- Out-of-Office Procedures – Be clear on who does what when someone is out of the office, and make sure everyone is aware of their responsibility during your time away. Make sure you never double out-of-office, meaning the person someone has designated as their contact also has their out-of-office reply on.
- Conflict Resolution and Flushing out Concerns – Avoiding misunderstandings using strong communication is the best way to avoid conflicts altogether, however, it is important to set a process to address potential conflicts that may arise from time to time.
- Escalation Procedures – Make sure you outline a clear process by which your staff can escalate matters that require attention or impartial intervention.
- Peer-to-peer collaboration – Leveraging the skills of our peers can be a great way to collaborate and fine-tune our communication skills. Whenever you are in doubt as to how to respond or say something, you can reach out to a peer and solicit their feedback.
You may choose to roll out your communication training company-wide or by department through a video or teleconference meeting. Also, be sure to make it a requirement for new hires to complete.
Lead by example
Last, but not least, for this to work, it is important to not only keep it simple but hold everyone in your organization accountable to your standards. This means starting from the top down. By doing so, you’ll send the most powerful message, backed by your actions and not just by words. As a result, your employees will appreciate your executives and managers setting the example and will be further encouraged to work harder and to get better at communicating in the workplace.
*The cost of poor communications. SHRM. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/communication/pages/the-cost-of-poor-communications.aspx