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How Your Chatter Matters

4 min read

Effective communication may be a battle, but it’s necessary to keep the peace in a workplace. To lead effectively and sustainably, communication must be addressed from leader to staff and between employees.

“Effective communication is critical for building trust, empowering staff and boosting employee engagement,” Andrea Parnell, chief people officer at Southern Bancorp said. “The connection between ineffective communication and mental health is so interesting. Even when change is positive, ineffective communication can alter the translation. In the absence of information, employees will draw their own conclusions.”

A sentiment Channing Hall, psychiatric nurse practitioner at Grace Therapeutics of Conway, also emphasized.

“If you show people exactly what your intentions are, they don’t necessarily have to question them,” Hall said.

Leader to Staff

A Good Listener is a Good Communicator

Not only will listening help executives see what is going on in the workplace, but it also improves the employee’s experience if they feel heard and addressed.

“No matter the communication style, there is a universal principle to keep in mind — seek to understand before trying to be understood,” Parnell said.

This can keep frustration out of the office by avoiding repetitiveness. For executives, keep in mind that employees want to feel heard by their leaders. Employee surveys are a common form of feedback. These allow communication from the employees, but is only beneficial if they can see the executives have listened and made changes. It has to be mutual.

Communication is a two-way street, Hall explained. She suggested listening with “a big ear,” meaning listen with intention. Just like those employee surveys, listening needs to be mutual.

“When it’s your turn to communicate, communicate in a way that you understand what you heard,” Hall said. “Speak from what you have listened to.”

Good Change Management

Change can often put stress on communication from leadership down.

“Executives are constantly faced with big decisions that require deliberation, dialogue and time. Once the decision is made, it is natural to want to jump right into implementation,” Parnell said. “My encouragement would be to hit the pause button long enough to contemplate a communication plan that addresses who, what, when and how.”

One strategy Parnell suggests is to map out a grid showing who needs to know what, the order and timeline of implementation and how to convey the message.

“It is important to recognize that the executive may have reached a comfort level with whatever is changing because they’ve wrestled with it and had time to process. When the message goes out, those new audiences will also require time to digest,” Parnell explained.

Don’t Be Afraid to Give Employees a Seat at the Table

“Employees cannot buy into a future they cannot see,” Parnell said. “There needs to be a seat at the table for those who ask the question, ‘What do employees need to know about this change?’ Bringing this lens to the conversation will benefit the organization.”

This buy-in cannot be understated from a mental health standpoint, Hall explained. It can significantly increase mental health in the workplace — the more employees are included in discussions and decisions, the more energizing the workplace becomes. The work culture is affirmed, which boosts morale.

This buy-in cannot be understated from a mental health standpoint, Hall explained. It can significantly increase mental health in the workplace — the more employees are included in discussions and decisions, the more energizing the workplace becomes. The work culture is affirmed, which boosts morale.

Staff to Staff

Utilize Personality Quizzes

A wildly popular form of improving communication from staff to staff is personality quizzes. Myers-Briggs and Enneagram tests are just a few of the most-utilized. This allows staff to know exactly how their peers communicate — and how they like to be communicated with — without having to ask.

“I’m a fan of many of these and have found them to be effective in resolving conflict, helping new team members gel and promoting professional development,” said Parnell. “These tests can help you understand how you may be perceived by differing communication styles. For instance, if I am a data-driven, bottom-line type of communicator, a more relationship-oriented and loquacious person may see me as rude or aloof. Second, these tests enable you to identify someone else’s communication style so you can adapt yours accordingly.”

Regular Team Meetings and Open Communication

When doors are shuttered and teams are disconnected, there is more likely to be a communication deficit between staff. It’s important for employees to see work happening in other departments and feel that they can communicate with partners on tasks. Instilling even just a 15-minute weekly, bi-weekly or monthly meeting connects teams and makes them more familiar with each other, which in turn leads to easier flow of communication.

This also helps employees see each other’s communication styles in action. Whether they need something repeated seven times or time to process, each employee is different.

“You have to cater to their listening style,” Hall said. “It’s not just how you communicate, it’s knowing how a person receives the information as well.”

Set Clear Expectations

Have clear company values and stand by them in aspects of communication and disagreements. When employees are collaborating on projects, set expectations regarding roles, responsibilities and deadlines to avoid misunderstandings between different styles of communicators. It’s important this is set before the conflict happens. Furthermore, if a leader sets expectations, it’s important that they themselves follow those expectations, Parnell explained.

“All employees must be intentional and make the effort; however, leadership roles are especially important. Leaders need to recognize the significance of their role in the flow of communication both up and down the chain of command,” Parnell said.

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