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How to communicate and give feedback

Improving your communication skills and learning to give motivating feedback can have a positive effect on your entire business. It’s good for your people and good for your bottom line.

Why effective communication is important


Effective communication and feedback support every other aspect of leading and managing well, whether that's:

  • motivating people to work to their full potential
  • setting clear expectations
  • successfully delegating
  • demonstrating trust and respect.

Improving how you communicate will help you build stronger relationships with your employees. Day to day these relationships make being at work more enjoyable. They’ll also stand you in good stead when times are stressful or hard.

Giving people the right information in the right way is good for your bottom line too. When employees or customers get their wires crossed, it can waste a lot of time and money.

How you communicate affects every aspect of your business.

How you communicate affects every aspect of your business.

What to communicate

Your story: Most small businesses have an interesting story — how they came to exist and their reason for being. Share it. Knowing how they fit into the big picture can be incredibly motivating for employees. It makes coming to work more than just a job.

Your goals and priorities: Help people connect your business aims with their personal and professional goals. Be clear what you’d like your people to focus their attention on and why. 

For example, if an employee would like experience developing a social media campaign, and one of your goals is to enter a new market, ask them to research using social media to connect with your new audience.

Your market: Who are your customers? What do you know about them? How are you different from competitors? What do you do better? What can you learn from them?

Make information easy to share, eg simple to read presentations or reports.

If employees understand how you’re unique, they can share your story with suppliers and clients, eg if you sell luxury cosmetics you may have a unique story about how you source your ingredients and the people they come from.

It may also encourage them to put forward ideas that give you competitive advantage.

Your expectations: These could be tied to a task or project, eg “By Tuesday I’d like you to have unpacked all the boxes in the stockroom and finished the window display.”

Or they might relate to how you expect them to dress, behave, or approach tasks, eg always putting themselves in the customers’ shoes.

Your achievements: Sharing what’s going well gives employees confidence in you as a leader. It makes people proud to work for you and inspires them to work hard. It might also help them to see what they can learn from you and vice versa.

Be sure to show how individual triumphs contribute to your wider goals. They could be goal related, eg “We’ve just reached 15 per cent market share, we’re on track”.

They could be operational, eg “We just purchased this new piece of equipment, it should be running by Monday”.

Or they could be personal, eg “This month is our tenth birthday and we’re only getting stronger”.

You should always think about ways to sharpen your communication and feedback skills. Use this assessment to reflect on what your strengths are, and pinpoint how you can improve.

At the end of this assessment you’ll get:

  • a better idea of your strengths and weaknesses
  • practical tips and tools
  • links to expert advice.

5-10 minutes

Find out where to focus

Tool group hug
Tool group hug

Clear expectations

Tool people at desk

Did you know...

A Yale University study found if a manager describes the long-term outcome they want, rather than dictating specific actions, the employee is more likely to get the task done right.

People have to redo work because they have misunderstood what I’ve asked.

Inviting feedback

Tool workers talking

Did you know...

Worldwide studies have shown when employees can voice their concerns freely, organisations see increased retention and stronger performance.

I invite staff to give me feedback on my own performance.

Managing performance

Tool woman talking to student

Did you know...

For negative feedback to be useful, it’s essential to create conditions where staff can take in feedback, reflect on it and learn from it, says executive coach and management professor. — Dr Monique Valcour

When I give someone critical feedback, I focus on facts and how they impacted a particular situation.

Different communication styles

Tool painter

Did you know...

Understanding an employee’s personality helps a leader get the best from them. — Julia Richardson, New Zealand Business Performance Panel

I adapt the feedback I give based on someone’s personality.

Being open and aware

Tool business woman

Did you know...

A study of 8,000 employees found those whose managers meet with them regularly are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees who don’t meet with managers regularly.

I make time for my staff to speak to me:

Managing performance

Tool people at desk

Did you know...

Many businesses are switching from rigid annual reviews to regular check-ins that help people steadily improve.

I have conversations with my employees about how they are performing in their role:

Clear expectations

Tool group

Did you know...

Hiring someone who doesn't fit into the workplace culture can cost a business between 50-60% of that person’s annual salary, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

New staff learn about company culture:

Being open and aware

Tool workers talking

Did you know...

Strong people skills and self-awareness drive better strategic and financial results, according to a Green Peak Partners study.

In my recent professional life, I have been told my communication is:

Different communication styles

Tool digger

Did you know...

Research on more than 3,000 executives showed the best performing businesses are led by people who change their leadership style in different situations.

I make a point of finding out how different people handle difficult situations.

Inviting feedback

Tool man with paper

Did you know...

In a survey of 1,400 professionals, 90% of respondents said decision-makers should seek other opinions before making a final decision. However, about 40% felt they failed to do so.

I ask for input on important workplace policies and processes.

Tell us about your business

Just one last step before your self-assessment results. So we can shape future tools and services around your needs, please tell us about your business size, location, age and industry.

Take 15 minutes a day to chat with your people.

Take 15 minutes a day to chat with your people.

Sharing a joke and a chat helps build loyalty and trust between you and your employees. It shows you’re interested in what people value and not just what they produce.

How to communicate

Employees are more likely to respond positively to what you’re saying if you have their trust and respect.

Use these tips to communicate well:

Keep it short and sharp

Whatever you say, people generally remember three to five points. When writing or speaking, open and close with the things you most want people to remember.

Avoid jargon

Every business has it. It’s ok to use industry shorthand when you’re confident employees know what you’re talking about. But be mindful to avoid technical terms when you’re speaking with new members of staff.

Give people a chance to ask questions

No matter how rushed you are for time, fielding employee questions will prevent mix-ups and save time in the long run.

Follow up meetings with an email

When it’s important employees take on board what you’re saying, summarise what you’ve talked about face-to-face in an email. It gives people something to refer to. It’s also a clear record if a member of your team doesn’t do something you’ve asked.

Remember to listen

Communication should be a two-way street. Limit distractions and give people your full attention. Listen to check people have understood and for reactions to what you’re saying.

Think about your audience

Consider who you’re talking to and adapt how you communicate to suit their personality, knowledge and skill level.

When in doubt talk face to face

Emails lack context, tone and nonverbal cues. It’s easy for people to misinterpret information or take offence. Give employees information first-hand when:

  • giving complicated instructions
  • explaining how to do something for the first time
  • delivering bad news
  • when something is urgent.

Pay attention to your body language

The way you carry yourself speaks volumes. Do you stop what you’re doing when people talk to you? Look people in the eye? Use a polite tone of voice?

Be approachable

Make sure employees know it’s ok to come and talk to you. If being interrupted is stopping you getting through your to-do list, set aside an hour a day when people can discuss things with you and ask questions.

Start each day, or shift, with a 10 to 15 minute stand up meeting.

Start each day, or shift, with a 10 to 15 minute stand up meeting.

It can be a good way of discussing goals and challenges for the day. Remember to keep them swift.

What's in it for me

Employees, like customers, will generally want to do something if it works for them. Just as you wouldn’t treat all customers the same, bear in mind what motivates one employee may be very different to what motivates another.

Customers at a gym may be motivated by reasons as different as: losing weight, making friends or competing in ultra sports. Employees’ motivations for doing a task may be:

  • thinking they may get a promotion or pay rise
  • being interested in learning more about a new area, eg they work in sales but would like to learn more about marketing.
  • the work matches their values, eg reroofing a school or manning the bar at a charity event.

When customers feel you’re meeting their needs, they’re loyal and willing to pay more. When employees feel you’re meeting their needs, they care about your business and work harder.

To understand your customers and employees try walking in their shoes. Understand what lights their fires and make sure how you communicate strikes a chord with what they value.

Giving motivating feedback is a key communication skill. Like any skill, the more you practice, the easier it will become. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you get it wrong from time to time.

Avoid saving feedback up for performance reviews. Give praise and deal with issues as close to the event as possible.

It’s essential to give people negative feedback in private. Try to communicate from your perspective rather than point the finger, eg “I’ve noticed you’ve missed a few deadlines recently,” instead of “You’re always missing deadlines.”

Starting with positives can also stop the person feeling totally deflated, eg “I really like the way you’ve been helping out the team this week. I wonder if it’s now time to focus on your projects.”

Situation, behaviour, impact

This approach developed by the Centre for Creative Leadership is a simple process you can use for giving feedback.

  1. Identify the situation, eg in last week’s team meeting
  2. Describe the behavior, eg I noticed you interrupted Francis a few times
  3. Explain its impact, eg she seemed offended and I’m worried she’ll think you don’t value her opinions if you keep doing it.

Inviting feedback

Knowing it’s ok to speak their minds helps employees:

  • trust you
  • feel valued
  • feel your workplace is a fair place to be.

You can ask for feedback formally, eg in an employee engagement survey, or by having a whiteboard or box for suggestions and ideas.

Invite feedback informally too. Make sure employees know you’re interested in what they think and encourage them to share ideas with you.

Being able to take feedback is just as much a skill as giving it. React graciously by remembering to:

Take a moment

It’s natural for adrenalin to start pumping when someone is criticising you — no matter how constructively. Take a mental pause before you react. It will help you avoid being defensive. Remember feedback gives you the chance to do things better and helps you and your business grow.

Listen before you respond

Don’t interrupt before the person has finished. It can be tempting to jump in with an explanation or other comment. Wait. Make sure you’ve given your employee the chance to say their piece. It shows you respect them.

Be patient too. Some people feel very nervous giving feedback. They may be finding it hard to find their words.

Say thank you

Make sure employees know it’s ok to be open about how they’re feeling. Thank them for sharing their opinions. They’ll feel valued and be more likely to share future thoughts.

Ask questions

Don’t finish the conversation before you’ve understood what the person wants to say. Repeat back their feedback in different words to make sure you’ve grasped their point.

Make time to follow up

Show your employee you’ve taken their feedback seriously. Arrange a follow up meeting or casually check in to see if whatever was bothering them has improved.

You don’t always have to accept feedback as being true, but it’s important to take it on board. Report back how you’ve acted on their comments or explain your reasons if you haven’t.

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