Q: I started this business 15 years ago and it has grown steadily ever since. We are profitable, and I don’t have regular meetings with my employees. Why should I start now?
A: It is important to remember that every business is different and every manager is different. There is no one way to do everything, especially communication. Just because you don’t have regular meetings with your employees doesn’t mean you are not communicating. It appears that you are using other techniques to transfer information to your employees and for you to obtain information.
You are successful and profitable: an enviable position. Think for a moment or two about what you do and how that allows you to communicate your goals and objectives to your staff. You may be a skilled manager who is able to communicate volumes to people in a variety of ways, or you may be missing an opportunity to be more effective.
However, as your business continues to grow, informal communication may slowly lose its effectiveness and meetings might be an important tool to help fill the void and help pull people together.
Q: I have weekly meetings of my staff, and no one else ever talks. I do all the talking. What should I do?
A: Next time you have your meeting, make sure the agenda has been prepared and distributed ahead of time and that it asks staff to come prepared with one idea on a particular timely topic.
When the meeting begins, ask for someone to share the idea he or she brought to the meeting. Then just sit and listen. If no one speaks, sit and listen. Wait until someone speaks or until the time allotted for the meeting is over.
If no one has spoken, call a meeting for the next day and set the same agenda. Your staff needs to know that you will listen to them. They need to trust that you will listen to them, so you may have to demonstrate that you can sit and listen to nothing first.
Q: We send out company-wide notifications of all our policy changes, but people keep saying they never got that message. How can we be sure that everyone really reads it?
A: If it’s really critical, you can ask people to respond—to either comment on it or at least acknowledge they received it. But I think this is a less than desirable approach. It might seem that you are being condescending by demanding they respond or acknowledge communication explicitly.
A much better approach is to go over these changes at meetings. If they still say they didn’t get the message, you can note that they were at the meeting where you discussed it.
Q: What kinds of things should I communicate?
A: You should communicate almost anything and everything that has a direct impact on the employees. Give them information. Information is knowledge, and knowledge is power. A powerful workforce is a critical tool in making your company successful.
Q: What kinds of things should I keep private?
A: There are many things that should be kept private. These include plans that have not yet been fully formed; personnel issues pertaining to individuals should never be communicated to others; facts and figures that are not solid and may change are best withheld until accurate information is available; and inaccurate information should never be communicated.
Q: How do I ensure that I am getting good communication from my staff?
A: The best way for you to make sure you are getting complete and accurate communication from your staff is to listen to them and let them tell you everything they intend to tell you. Then you should ask for clarification, and if necessary ask as many questions as possible to fill in any gaps in information.
Q: When should I clarify communication?
A: You should be clarifying all the time. You don’t need to make a big deal of your clarification, especially if the issue is not of critical importance. You may only need to use keywords to confirm that you understand the key concept.
Q: Do I need to be a public speaker to be a good communicator?
A: Not at all. What you need is a clear, consistent strategy for communicating what you want people to know. You should be able to communicate very effectively and should only infrequently need to stand in front of a large group of people.
Use other vehicles, such as memos and email. Even if you might feel that you are a poor public communicator, employees would much rather hear from you, the entrepreneur, than from another executive who might be more polished.
Q: Why do people sometimes think I’m upset when I’m not?
A: Maybe your tone of voice sends the wrong message. Sometimes we are totally unaware of our tone of voice. Ask people who work closely with you whether your tone of voice conveys that you seem upset.
Q: I think I’m saying and doing all the correct things, but I don’t feel that it is working. What could be wrong?
A: Maybe you are communicating more messages than you think. People are not just hearing and listening to your words; they are also perceiving your body language. Sometimes body language can be so strong that people don’t hear the words. Think about how you present yourself and the settings in which you tend to talk to people.
Q: I’m so busy that I don’t have time to communicate.
A: Although you don’t realize it, you are communicating by not communicating. By not talking to your staff or by not responding to your employees, you communicate volumes. You are sending them a message that they are not important enough or valuable enough for you to talk with them. By not responding to their memos or ideas you tell them that their ideas are not important. This behavior is very negative and counterproductive for any business.