It’s one of the oldest dichotomies of the working world—the disconnect between the boss and the employee. While many factors contribute to this uneasiness between the two occupational entities, one seems to top the list of grievances time and time again: there’s a lack of communication across the organization.
A few years ago, Robert Sutton, professor of management science and engineering at Harvard University, conducted a workshop between an executive vice president and his management team who were experiencing “group dynamic” issues. Sutton had the group brainstorm for 20 minutes over potential products and analyzed the process. The results were less than ideal: The EVP spent 65 percent of the time talking, interrupted his colleagues more than 20 times, and was never interrupted by other managers, leaving the managers feeling perturbed and undervalued. Not exactly a productive and communicative think-tank session.
While most will argue that the burden of good communication should fall upon those in the highest ranking positions, it is certainly beneficial for both parties to put in the effort to understand one another. It doesn’t matter if you are calling all the shots from your corner office or the intern sent out on a coffee order every morning—below are some best practices for both employer and employee to bolster communication in the workplace.
Managers, no matter the level, were chosen for their positions for their confidence, ability to lead, and penchant to deliberate with team members. These three characteristics are just words unless held together with the bond of communication. There are a few simple steps you can take to solidify yourself as a leader while also getting the most value out of your team.
Allow open forums or town hall meetings.
From your position high up on the managerial ladder, it is all too easy to miss out on the seemingly trivial everyday events. However, you’d be remiss to think that your team toiling away in the bullpen or in the field don’t have anything to say. In fact, their experience can prove to imbue some incredible insights on the organization.
It’s beneficial for both managers and their teams to periodically engage in open forums or town meetings. Managers should periodically surrender their place at the pulpit to hear what the employees have to say. Aspire to have meaningful, face-to-face conversations with the men and women who drive greatness into the organization. If you can’t get everyone together in person, virtual conferences have been a viable option in recent years, and they have succeeded in bringing colleagues the world over together. Everyone likes to know they are being heard, and you should want to hear what they have to say.
Paint yourself in a transparent light.
The American Psychological Society found that nearly a quarter of workers do not trust their bosses. A stigma has grown of sleazy, untrustworthy people being placed in positions of authority. It’s your duty to dispel this image so your employees know they can come to you.
Know and avoid the characteristics of an untrustworthy manager. Strive to promote transparency and communication across all levels of the company. Be unconditional in considering praise and pitfalls in your capacity as manager, empower employees to improve themselves, and show a vested interest in your team’s success.
Take a little trip into any office setting, and it won’t take you long to pick up on the not-so-subtle murmurs and mumbles of employees whirling around the building. When something in the business is awry, employees quickly resort to spreading gossip and venting their grievances to each other. This chatty environment might be the employee’s fault, or it might be upper management’s. One thing is for certain: it is not conducive to a successful work environment. Instead of griping to your desk mate about the issue, employ some of these habits and be proactive about the problem.
Be aware of your own culpability.
Whether or not it’s true, everyone loves to think they are not to blame. It’s all too easy to pass the buck onto someone else when things hit the fan, but it certainly isn’t contributing to the solution.
Whether or not another person was complicit in a particular wrongdoing, divvying up the blame is degradative of a productive work environment. And it’s understandable—sometimes, it’s difficult to swallow your pride when you’ve goofed something up. Instead, work together with all involved parties to create a solution to avoid the mistake next time around
Be proactive in your supervisor’s needs.
As much as you might have painted this caricature of your manager as a snuffy, arrogant miser sitting atop his throne, put yourself in his shoes. He is probably in and out of meetings all day, schmoozing his superiors, and worrying about how he is going to meet that next deadline or fulfill his quota. Being a leader is stressful, and you can help make it easier for him and everyone you work with.
Try your best to be clairvoyant in determining the needs of your boss and be ready with solutions to help his day go more smoothly. Plus, thinking ahead can really do wonders in proving your value to the organization. It can be easy to be resentful of your boss and think that he is just out to get you. But you’ve got to remember that he has a job just like you. He is more than likely trying to do everything he can for the best of the team.
If you haven’t ascertained the motif of the article just yet, here it is: communication is a two-way street. It takes a coordinated effort from all parties involved to create an open and communicative environment. There is one simple tool that your team can begin using that will help foster a structured and thoughtful communication process.
Employ the Pyramid Principle.
Entrepreneur Ameet Ranadive recalls the use of the Pyramid Principle from his days as a McKinsey and Company employee. The tool was used to encourage well-rounded and insightful discussions between higher-ups and employees. The concept is pretty simple, consisting of three steps:
- Start with the answer first.
- Group and summarize your supporting ideas or arguments.
- Logically order supporting ideas.
In starting with the answer first, you are putting all possible scenarios onto the table. Once everyone has had his or her say, you can then ask “why?” Why is this solution the right one? From there, you can begin grouping similar ideas into structures, such as priority and time constraints.
“The Pyramid Principle is not just valuable for communicating with executives, but really it’s effective to communicate with anyone whom you wish to persuade with an argument,” Ameet Ranadive says. “As an entrepreneur, the tool could be what you use to communicate with prospective investors or board members. As a leader in an organization, you can use the Pyramid Principle to communicate with peers or project stakeholders when you make an important proposal.”
While there is a myriad of factors that can inhibit effective communication in the workplace, there are plenty of tactics out there to combat against negative interactions between a boss and his team members. But when it comes down to it, it just takes a cognizant effort to care for your occupational counterpart. Stop fighting—start talking.