With many teams feeling a sense of stress and anxiety—and many other teams also working from home for the first time—very much top of mind right now is effective communication.
To discuss practical ways you
can make sure your communication is helping your team improve how it works, we
sat down with Robin Throckmorton to interview her about a topic she’s been
helping companies with for decades.
Robin is the President and Founder of strategic HR inc. where she brings nearly 30 years of human resources experience in healthcare, manufacturing, service, and non-profit organizations (just to name a few) creating solutions to help them recruit, retain, and develop the best brightest team members.
As a business owner and experienced human resources professional herself, Robin has a deep understanding and empathy for the challenges so many leaders are facing right now.
Here are 4 practical tips to help you improve your communication, even with the instability—or the uncertainty—that may be happening around you.
1. Understand your team members’ preferred styles of communication
Part of effective communication is knowing the tendencies or preferences that someone has when communicating with them.
Having greater awareness about the cohorts (or generations) around us can help us in that process, explains Robin. “Understanding what communication methods may be more natural for someone is helpful when you are trying to respond someone’s preference. However, by no means should you ever assume these preferences are it and an individual cannot or does not want to use other methods,” she explains.
Put simply, the objective isn’t to stereotype or generalize by knowing certain tendencies; rather, it’s about learning about yourself and others to become more self-aware and adapt as needed.
And, as Robin explains, that’s also important in order to be able to effectively set expectations around communication in your organization, too.
To get started, Robin says it’s powerful to ask other people what communication method they prefer, and then work to accommodate that preferred style, when appropriate.
In many situations, the following tends to be preferred styles of communication:
- Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964) often prefer communicating in a group or a team setting and face to face when possible
- Gen X (1965 – 1976) often prefer email because it can be anytime, anywhere
- Gen Y (1977 – 1990) prefer email or even texting
- Gen Z (1991 – 2000) prefer text or face to face
The real value in this knowledge is knowing what people tend to prefer—and then changing your behavior, as a leader, based on that knowledge. Yes, this can hopefully explain a lot about a team member’s behavior. However, just as important, it can help you when setting expectations with them about the communication you hope to see from them.
For example, perhaps
it’s the norm in your organization to have as many face to face meetings with
customers as possible, especially if that were to be a new client or a client
that’s going through onboarding with your organization.
If face to face meetings aren’t possible, perhaps you then default to video conferencing (which may be the form of communication you’d use now).
For some generations or team members, that might be an obvious expectation. For other team members, they may not realize that expectation, unless it’s made clear to them. With that in mind, you can tailor your instruction to team members to be sure they know what styles and formats of communication are appropriate, and when. Don’t assume they know any different.
2. Be proactive about communication
“We likely will never be told by our employees that we communicate too much,” explains Robin. “It is important to identify multiple methods to use in communicating information to your employees and remember that key issues need communicated multiple times to ensure the message is truly heard,” she explains.
That might mean email, verbal discussion, intranet postings, or another channel that you use. Again, do a check to make sure you know what team members prefer and what they say is most effective, too.
3. Make sure communication brings the team together
For the many team that are remote right now, communication will be the glue that binds you together.
Do everything you can to keep workers in the loop about the business: that’s high level strategy to changes that impact their role specifically. Again, this may feel like over-communication to you, but it likely won’t feel that way to them, as long as it is valuable information that helps them to do their work.
“Remember, they don’t get the ‘water cooler’ talk that is typically shared in the office. So, this may mean a weekly employee newsletter, shared intranet, ‘huddle meetings’ via web conference, or even online chatting,” says Robin. Robin says if you don’t already have those in place, you can ask team members to see what they prefer and have several people involved to help “own” that form of communication—to make sure it happens.
4. Teach team members to be active listeners
Active listening is a skill that can be learned, and it can be improved upon with practice, says Robin. It’s also one of the best ways to create a culture that has healthy, ongoing and effective communication between team members.
First and foremost, you can help team members avoid distraction when it comes to listening. They might not realize just how often they are getting distracted and so equip them to know what distraction looks like, especially in a remote setting.
Distractions can be physical distractions (as many know right now, especially if they aren’t used to working from home!) but they can also be mental distractions. Once you are aware of distractions, you can look to reduce the ones you can control right now.
When it comes to truly listening to someone else, it’s not about preparing a rebuttal or respond, it’s about focusing on that person, and consciously listening to what they have to say. In other words, active listening is not about thinking about how we’re going to respond, says Robin.
Equip your people to learn how to repeat back to someone what they are hearing, after that person speaks, as a form of feedback. That’s just one tactic that can show people you are listening but also it can help make sure everyone is understanding each other. That might sound something like, “So what I’m hearing you say is…” and that helps to show that we’re listening, and it helps to ensure we’re really absorbing the information as intended.
With a culture of active listening, people feel respected and ideas are more likely to be shared, because people feel heard and valued, adds Robin.
All in all, these four steps can help your culture be open, more productive, and have more meaningful dialogue, especially in such an uncertain time like the one we’re facing now.
strategic HR inc. is a national full-service HR management firm based in Cincinnati, Ohio.
President and founder Robin Throckmorton can be reached at Robin(at)strategichrinc.com.
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