Jill Geisler: Resolve to upgrade your communication in 2023

January 16, 2023 2:58 pm

What are your key goals for 2023? You’ve probably established your business goals for the year ahead. But what about personal goals?  What can you do to improve your leadership effectiveness and benefit your team?

Let me offer a worthy resolution: In 2023, pledge to upgrade the quality of your communication. It’s a critical part of the work environment that many employees find lacking. A  2021 Gallup report found that only 7% of U.S. workers “strongly agree that communication is accurate, timely and open where they work.”[1] That’s a problem begging for a solution.

You have the power to make things better. It begins with your own commitment. I’ve compiled a list of communication resolutions for 2023 to help you get started.

Commit to improved communications

Fine tune listening skills. If you’re already known as a good listener, I applaud you. So do your colleagues because they see it as a sign of respect and care. If you’ve never been told you listen well — or worse, if people have said you need to improve — take it to heart. Start giving people your full attention. Don’t multitask when they talk with you. Repeat back what you heard, especially when you sense the topic is important to them. Let them finish sentences before jumping in. (That can be difficult for extroverts, who love to chime in as thoughts pop into their heads.) Train yourself to pause so you can take more in.

Leverage the power of questions. Leaders may think they have to serve as Answer Central for their teams. Too often, though, they miss key info when they offer advice and solutions before asking questions. When I teach leaders how to be coaches instead of fixers, I emphasize that the first story they hear from employees is rarely the full story. By asking open-ended, non-judgmental questions “What else was going on at that time?” “What options are you considering?” “What would success look like?” —  you can learn a lot, even in a short conversation. Your questions can also lead people to discover their own answers, which is exactly what you’d like them to do.

Remember that the more important the subject, the more important it is to address it face to face. Using email or texts to wade through contentious or complex situations can lead to needless misunderstanding — and worse. Remember, text lacks all the extra cues that people can take in during personal conversations: your tone, your body language, even your intent. If you’re upset with someone, step away from the keyboard. If you’re delivering bad news, don’t hide behind emails. People deserve to see and hear from you directly. It’s the same with good news. Whenever possible, deliver in person to improve the experience for both of you.

Become an expert at closing the loop and help your team do the same. This is a quick way to build trust and collaboration. Agree among yourselves that you will do your best to provide responses to one another as quickly as you can ― even when you don’t have an answer at your fingertips. Let’s say someone on your team asks to swap shifts with a colleague. You need to make certain it works for others on the team. Instead of leaving the person hanging for a reply while you find out (and wondering if you even got their message), send a response that says, “I need to check with two other folks who might be affected. I’ll get back to you within 24 hours.” Telling people when they can expect an answer demonstrates that you’ve heard them and that they matter. You can also add, “And if for some reason you don’t hear from me tomorrow, feel free to nudge me.” People are often reluctant to send reminders to their bosses, fearing it looks like criticism. But now you’ve encouraged them to do it as part of your loop closing commitment.

Ensure that meetings are efficient and effective. Review the meetings you currently have. Do they have a purpose? Is it informational? Social? About planning? Or quality control? Make sure meetings are supporting the strategy and culture you want. Do your important meetings have an agenda? Agendas force you to plan the content in advance and keep focus. Agendas keep chatty extroverts on task and allow introverts to prepare their thoughts. Do your meetings end with “next steps,” where all in attendance know their roles, responsibilities and deadlines? Do you send recap notes on important follow-up items?

Abandon management-speak. Be authentic. There’s no need to ideate when thinking will do. Your team members aren’t “head count,” they’re humans. Don’t follow the lead of one organization I know that called a series of buyouts and layoffs streamlining to grow. You can imagine how the staff felt about that framing. Speak from your heart, not some MBA playbook. Here’s a helpful exercise: Ask your staff what corporate-speak phrases irritate them most. (This can be a fun meeting icebreaker.) You’ll learn what words and phrases land poorly with your team and how they perceive those who use such language.

Provide meaningful, ongoing feedback. Assume that your team members want and need more than they’re getting. If employees learn about their gaps or strengths only during annual reviews, shame on the boss. You can do so much better. Your people who are doing well are energized and motivated by feedback that reinforces, thanks and encourages them.[2] Those who are underperforming deserve a clear description of what’s expected and how it’s measured. Some managers are comfortable with praise but avoid having tough conversations.[3] That helps no one. Become adept at all forms of feedback, and make it an everyday activity.

Be generous in keeping people informed. The best leaders know that their teams are eager for information. Are we hitting budget targets? What are we hearing from people we serve? Are we close to filling those open positions? When will the new software roll out? Busy managers often forget how much people appreciate these updates. If you want people to be invested in the organization, not just their tasks, keep them included and informed.

Hold yourself accountable

If you decide to work on any or all these resolutions, here’s a bonus tip: Share your resolutions with your team. Let them know what you’re doing to become a better communicator. Your candor proves that you’re willing to be held accountable. And when you keep those communication resolutions, you’ll get the credit you deserve.

[1] Robison, J., “Communicate better with employees, regardless of where they work,“ Gallup.com, June 28, 2021.

[2] Geisler, J., “Effective performance management requires knowing how to give positive feedback,” hfm, December 2019.

[3] Geisler, J., “9 ways difficult conversations go south and how to keep that from happening,” hfm, December 2021.


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