Excellent supervisor-worker communication helps everyone feel important

Employees say on surveys that they like and want face-to-face communication, and so, managers carry down corporate strategy and culture messages to the workforce. It’s a manager cascade, as messages move from the top down each level of management until the immediate supervisor talks with each employee.

Sounds simple enough. But invariably, the message is garbled by the time it reaches the worker. Remember the old parlor game of telephone? A sentence is whispered from one person to the next in line, and then everyone has a good laugh at the difference between the original statement and the ending interpretation.

Multiple levels of management increase the odds of misinterpretation, indifference, and possibly resistance. Sometimes, the message isn’t passed along at all.

Conversation pumps up importance

 When it’s done right, through natural conversation, supervisors tell what they know in a way that relates to employees. Individuals ask clarifying questions about how a topic affects them, their job, their family, or their future. Having a manager who is close to the action and willing to share gives comfort to employees.

And how do supervisors feel about their part in a cascade? Being the source of knowledge reinforces their role in the chain of command, and that can feel good.

Yet the truth is that when it comes to talking about corporate strategy or culture, some results-oriented supervisors question whether it is really their job. Why take time to discuss anything they perceive as less pressing than meeting with customers or meeting their numbers? And they certainly don’t have time to take another communication skills training course.

Tell and retell a powerful story

Instead of asking managers to parrot corporate goals using a provided slide deck that few want to see, consider this: Seed conversations for managers to have with employees as a natural part of their workday.

Spread a story, an anecdote, worth retelling. A story sets a stage, defines a challenge, and moves to resolution. Pick a story that is easy to retell. Sometimes making a task easy overcomes reluctance to do it.

With questions, you make a conversation

Like stories, questions engage people in a conversation to reinforce learning. Offer managers some questions to ask their employees that are related to the issue up for discussion. These are conversation-starter questions:

  • Why should we care about this in our department?
  • What will it mean for the work we do?
  • What actions do we need to take to achieve the goals?
  • What milestones can we measure along the way to stay on track?

It’s probably a good idea to offer a couple of possible answers for managers to keep in their back pockets to use until employees will feel comfortable diving into the dialogue. To the question, “Why should we care about this in our department?” you might suggest, “We can keep our customers from being lured away by the competition.” Seed the questions, and seed some answers.

It is, simply, a conversational way of presenting key ideas so that people see the relevance to themselves and their work.

Excerpted from "Give Voice To What Unites Us," bitly.com/give-voice