Communicating for Clarity and Direction as a Manager

Would you be surprised to learn that management studies indicate that 50% to 80% of a manager's time is dedicated to communicating in some way? Clearly, the ability to communicate effectively is an integral part of being a manager.

Consistent use of four communication strategies will promote effective communication and help you do a better job directing others:

  • being positive
  • seeking and providing feedback
  • keeping employees in the loop, and
  • listening actively

Never underestimate the importance of being positive. It can provide a couple of impressive benefits – a more positive attitude toward work and an increase in productivity among your employees.

There are several aspects to being positive:

  • providing positive reinforcement – Giving praise for a job well done or offering encouragement and support as employees complete tasks are ways you can provide positive reinforcement.
  • being courteous – Saying "please" and "thank you" demonstrates respect and helps keep communication positive. Also, be prepared to apologize when necessary. Being courteous is a great way to demonstrate respect and encourage positive relationships and working environments.
  • making personal connections – Inquiring about your employees' work or following up on a previous conversation shows interest and helps you make personal connections. A brief e-mail, phone call, or conversation is all it takes to demonstrate interest and create positive relationships.
  • discouraging negativity – Another way to encourage a positive environment is by discouraging negativity when you encounter it. For instance, don't tolerate gossip, complaining, and negative talk.

Seeking and providing feedback

Seeking and providing feedback is an effective way to improve communication. And the better a team's ability to communicate, the better its chances of success. An environment supportive of open communication can help and will ultimately improve your ability to direct your team.

Improving communication is your responsibility. So a logical place to start is with your own ability. Seek feedback from your employees and colleagues about your ability to communicate.

Ask them questions like, "Am I clear?", "How could I improve?", and "Do you have any suggestions?" Extend your queries to include the team and organization, and you'll solicit feedback that can be used to improve communication throughout the organization.

Keeping employees in the loop

Being positive and seeking and providing feedback are the first two strategies for communicating for clarity and direction. Keeping employees in the loop is the third strategy. When you have to make a decision or a change that affects your team, it's important that you're open and provide an explanation for why you did what you did. When others understand your rationale, they're more likely to trust and support you.

A couple of pointers will help guide your efforts when you're explaining decisions and changes in order to keep your employees in the loop:

  • always tell the truth – First, always tell the truth. Getting caught in a lie is the surest way to lose the respect of your employees and to damage your credibility. Be truthful and candid in all your exchanges. When you don't know something, say so.
  • share appropriate information – Second, share only appropriate information. For instance, as a manager you may be privy to information such as individual salaries, details of yet-to-be-announced business deals or projects, and client information that you shouldn't share. When discretion or secrecy is necessary, say nothing at all, rather than lying about what you do know

In addition to being truthful and sharing only appropriate information, you should take care to be open and candid. If you're vague or evasive, your employees will question your truthfulness and feel disrespected, and you may lose trust and support. All of this will make it harder for your team to be successful.

Listening actively

Listening actively is a crucial component of communicating for clarity and direction. Active listening provides two very useful benefits – you'll gather more information and build a positive rapport with the other person.

You can be more effective and productive by making an effort to listen actively. Active listening involves giving your full attention, checking for understanding, listening for feelings, and summarizing what you hear.

Always give your full attention to the other person. This demonstrates that you are interested in and value what the person has to say.

As you listen, it's imperative that you don't interrupt. You'll gather more information and gain a better understanding if you wait until the person has finished speaking to respond.

You can check for understanding by restating or paraphrasing what you've heard in your own words. Aside from making sure you properly understand what you're being told, this offers an opportunity for the other person to elaborate or correct misunderstandings.

As you listen to what's being said, also "listen" for feelings. Do this by paying careful attention to body language. Watch for gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements that also convey information. Listen to tone of voice and consider choice of words and changes in delivery, such as hesitation or excitement.

When the conversation is over, summarize the important details of the message. This is an important final step – it provides one more chance to demonstrate interest and gives the speaker another chance to verify and clarify the message, if necessary.

Communication is a huge part of your role as a manager. You're responsible for improving communication on your team. Remember, teams that communicate well achieve better results than teams that don't. Given this fact, you'll want to do whatever you can to encourage good communication. Effective use of the four communicating strategies will help you improve your team's ability to communicate. Being positive, seeking and providing feedback, keeping employees in the loop, and listening actively will help you build an open environment where you can effectively communicate for clarity and direction.