Communication – especially from those in leadership positions– can make or break an employee’s ties to an organization.
Every interaction that you have with your employees, whether a one-on-one meeting or a group event, presents an opportunity to increase engagement with strategic dialogue.
There are many benefits to being a strong communicator in the workplace, which include breaking down barriers, developing positive relationships, and bringing people together to work toward a shared vision.
While polished communication skills require focused dedication and experience, there are shortcuts you can take to boost your results almost immediately.
The following list will explore seven communication hacks that you can execute in the workplace to extract valuable feedback, build trust and rapport, and ultimately inspire your team.
Most of us have heard of the value that can be gained through open-ended questions, but they are often executed improperly.
These types of questions are a great tool to get your employees to open up, to gain a more complete perspective of their objectives and needs, and to build trust and encourage free-flowing communication.
So, how can we turn any question into an open-ended question?
One way to achieve this, is to follow a closed-ended question with an additional request. For example, if you asked an employee “Do you feel that this project was a beneficial experience?” you could tack on “If so, please tell me how it impacted you.” Here are a few examples of open-ended questions:
- Help me understand your reaction to what we just discussed?
- What are your thoughts on this issue?
- Can I get your feedback on the items presented in the meeting?
- How do you visualize this taking place?
- What are the current challenges you find yourself working through?
- Would you tell me more about _______?
The Power of Validation
The desire for validation is common both in and out of the workplace.
It is essentially feedback that tells others what you are seeing, hearing, thinking, etc.
One of the reasons reward and recognition are such effective motivators is because they fulfill our need for validation. When it comes to communication, you can easily make your employees feel respected and valued by demonstrating that you hear and understand their perspective.
You can do this by reframing what you’ve just heard and asking for confirmation from the speaker.
Here’s an example of how to execute this technique:
- Manager: I’m hearing that you feel like you don’t have the necessary resources to effectively carry out your job duties. Is that correct?
- Employee: Yes, I think that I need a different type of software to accomplish my goals on the team.
- Manager: I can see why that would hold you back from reaching your goals. Let’s look at some options to fix this issue.
If the employee disagrees, this will give them an opportunity to elaborate and explain where the manager misunderstood them. It also validates their feelings and demonstrates that their manager is willing to work with them to help them succeed.
When you’re presenting new ideas or tasks to your team, it’s critical to test their understanding and make sure you’re all on the same page.
Even if you believe that everyone’s knowledge is on par with yours, checking in and asking for feedback is almost always a good practice. If one of your team members is a little lost, it’s possible that they will ask for clarification, but this doesn’t always happen (especially in group settings).
To avoid the problems that arise from misunderstandings, good leaders make presentations and meetings a two-sided conversation for deeper understanding and engagement.
The main thing to steer clear of with the check-in, is unintentionally making your audience feel like you’re being condescending. Stay away from questions like “do you understand what I’m telling you?” and stick with broad questions such as “do you have any questions?” or “would you like me to elaborate on anything?” Focusing on clarity and balanced dialogue is an effective way to make sure that your team understands what you’re asking of them and can confidently initiate discussions around your presentation.
We’ve already examined the benefits of replacing closed-ended questions with open-ended ones above, but they can be useful if they are used in the right context.
If you are trying to extract specific details from your team members and have limited time or need to steer clear of tangents, then closed-ended questions are a good option.
When you are looking to hone in on solid answers, use the answers below to guide the structure of your questions:
- “What date can I expect this project to be completed by?”
- “How much do you anticipate this project will cost?”
- “Is _____still on the top of your agenda?”
- “Would you like to add another member to your department?”
- “Can I count on you to handle the transition?”
- “Have you managed projects like this in the past?”
While these types of questions will not get you as much information as their open-ended counterparts, they are a good way to quickly get the answers you need. You may want to keep in mind, however, that too many of these questions can make your employees feel like they’re being interrogated so use them wisely.
Tapping into Empathy
Although empathy and sympathy are often confused, they should not be used interchangeably. Empathy involves understanding and sharing the feelings of another, whereas sympathy is more about feeling pity for someone.
When you are trying to demonstrate empathy, it is very important to avoid assumptions and ask leading questions. Instead, use open-ended questions to learn more about the individual’s experience and withhold judgement as you reflect on how this impacts them on an emotional level. You can also use active listening to show them that you are hearing and understanding what they are relaying to you.
Some of the chief benefits of demonstrating empathy with your employees include reduced conflict and negativity, strengthened relationships, and the ability to inspire and motivate your team. To tap into empathy, you need to really listen to what the speaker is telling you, imagine their experience and perspective, respond with the appropriate emotion and give in to the vulnerability it requires.
The Strength of Vulnerability
When was the last time you asked for help?
This can be difficult for many people – especially for those in leadership positions. Since asking for help is often associated with weakness or incompetence, and is therefore avoided at all costs.
This is a mistake.
When you request assistance from others, and expose your vulnerability, it’s really a sign of strength and confidence. It also offers the additional benefit of putting others at ease around you, and giving them the opportunity to share their gifts and talents. Give your team members the chance to shine by occasionally asking for help. There is strength in being vulnerable and it is a critical element necessary for connection with others.
While the previous sections of this article have been aimed at different types of verbal communication, the nonverbal elements of our communication can also have a great impact on our interactions.
Your tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language all play a part in the communication process – and many of us are not even aware of them. There are a lot of different ways you could go about using this type of communication to improve your workplace relationships and this section will share a few tactics you can begin using right away.
- Open vs. Closed
In an effort to protect ourselves, it is common to engage in blocking behaviors. This can include crossing our arms or legs, holding objects in front of our bodies or even moving objects between us and the person we’re speaking with. Even though this may feel more comfortable, it can make us appear defensive or closed off. Making a conscious effort to reduce these types of behaviors is a powerful way to positively shift the dynamic in your interactions.
- The Right Angle
Think back to a time when a person or event really grabbed your attention. It is likely that you unconsciously displayed this interest by turning your head and the rest of your body to face them and focused your gaze on them intently. If you want to increase feelings of engagement during a conversation, focus on completely facing the person you’re speaking with to show them that you’re interested in what they are sharing with you.
- Use Your Head
As you are facing the person you’re speaking with, try to make use of the head tilt when appropriate. Slightly tilting your head to one side while listening is a small but effective way to show the other party that you’re paying attention. If you must give unpleasant news, use the head tilt when you are speaking to soften the message you are relaying. This subtle technique is a powerful but often underutilized tool for effective communication.
- Open vs. Closed
The benefits of advanced communication skills are far reaching and they are essential for employee engagement.
Small things like showing appreciation, taking the time to really listen, and even using your employees’ names can make a massive difference.
The communication hacks outlined above can be applied immediately to experience the benefits of enhanced work relationships and employee engagement.