A Guide to Communicating with Employees in a Small Business

Good communication with employees is an essential part of a well-run business. Read up on some vital tips here

A Guide to Communicating with Employees in a Small Business

How do I communicate my message effectively?

To put your message across in the most effective way, ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I trying to achieve? Be clear on this, and try and break down your message into a series of distinct points you need to get across.
  • Who am I talking to? Are you going to be talking to an individual or a group? Think about how they are likely to receive your message, and consider the best timing.
  • How am I going to say it? Meetings and communications benefit from structure. Start by explaining why you are communicating with staff, present your points in order of importance, and end any meeting by summarising what has been said.
  • What kind of language should I use? Overly technical information and jargon will simply confuse a layperson without expert knowledge. Tailor your message so that everyone in your audience will understand. Avoid being too vague or rambling.

 

What communication method should I use?

Just as important as what you say is how you plan to say it; it would not be a good idea to announce mass layoffs by text message, for example, whilst asking an employee to proof-read a document probably doesn’t necessitate a face-to-face meeting. Generally, you should use the following methods of communication in descending order of the importance of whatever you are communicating:

  • Face-to-face meetings should always be preferred when the information is particularly important, and especially when you are delivering bad news. Hiding behind the shield of an email or memo will only cause anger and lower morale; be prepared to face the music and deal with any feedback or objections.
  • Phone calls are useful for agreeing on something quickly. Write down the main points of discussion before making a call so you can guide the discussion and avoid getting sidetracked.
  • Letters and memos are used less often in business than they were, but can still serve an important purpose for confirming agreements in writing. Use memos to record important discussions within the workplace so you can refer back to them later.
  • Emails are the method of choice for simple day-to-day matters that are not particularly time-sensitive. They also provide an indexed, written record of what was said. Be aware, though, that email communication carries some special risks.
  • Answering machines or voicemail should only be used when there is genuinely no alternative to getting in touch, and should never be used to directly communicate bad news.
  • Text messages are generally seen as unprofessional in a work setting, although it obviously depends on your relationship with whoever you are communicating with.

 

How can I improve my personal communication skills?

There are some techniques you could bear in mind when looking to improve communication with your employees:

  • Ask questions: Even if you are simply giving out information, asking questions is an effective way of drawing the other participant into the conversation and engaging with them. Ask open-ended (not ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions) to involve people in working towards a solution.
  • Listen – and understand: Demonstrate you are listening to the other person’s responses by paraphrasing your understanding of it and check if it is correct – use phrases like ‘Am I right in saying…’. Remember to wait until the other person has finished speaking before cutting in – interrupting or finishing the other person’s sentence for them can be seen as rude.
  • Don’t get defensive: It is natural, in a position of authority, to want to argue and correct someone if they express a view that you disagree with. However, there is a right way to do this – don’t dismiss someone’s views out of hand. Acknowledge the validity of their view before you put forward your own.
  • Be aware of your body language: Body language is crucial in good communication. Maintain eye contact, and avoid negative or defensive postures like crossing your arms in front of you or pointing at people. In a face-to-face meeting, if you aim to work together to reach a common solution, sit next to rather than opposite the other person.
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