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.
Effective communication and feedback support every other aspect of leading and managing well, whether that's:
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.
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 percent 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”.
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.
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:
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.
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.
No matter how rushed you are for time, fielding employee questions will prevent mix-ups and save time in the long run.
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.
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.
Consider who you’re talking to and adapt how you communicate to suit their personality, knowledge and skill level.
Emails lack context, tone and nonverbal cues. It’s easy for people to misinterpret information or take offence. Give employees information first-hand when:
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?
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.
It can be a good way of discussing goals and challenges for the day. Remember to keep them swift.
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:
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.”
This approach developed by the Centre for Creative Leadership is a simple process you can use for giving feedback.
Knowing it’s ok to speak their minds helps employees:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.