An informal survey of workers in various industries confirms what most managers have long suspected—communications between them and their people could be vastly improved. The employees were asked to appraise their managers’ methods of communicating with them and to offer suggestions for improving those methods. Their answers shed some useful light on what kind of communicating employees expect from their bosses.
They were unanimous on one thing: the way their managers communicated—or failed to—had a major influence on their performance.
Here are some guidelines that emerged from their comments:
Share more information with employees. Workers who have to guess about what’s going on in the department rarely remain silent—they feed the grapevine with rumors based on their hopes or anxieties. It’s up to the manager to share information with the crew to eliminate misunderstanding and rumor.
Conduct better appraisal interviews. Many employees felt they were on trial during appraisal interviews. They were afraid to bring up problems they were having on the job—problems that the manager might have helped them solve. This suggests that managers should try to establish a climate in which employees will feel free to say what’s on their minds.
Some employees felt that in appraisal interviews, their manager too often dealt with vague generalities that could apply to anyone. They want to be appraised in terms of their own records and problems. This means the manager should be well prepared for each interview and deal in specifics.
People would also appreciate more frankness during appraisal interviews. Even if something unpleasant is involved, they prefer that their boss come right out with it instead of beating around the bush.
Give praise as well as criticism. Many employees complained that managers talked to them only when something went wrong. These employees agreed that they should be corrected when they make mistakes, but the majority wanted equal time allotted for praising good work. Such praise, they said, would motivate them to do a better job.
Be available. It isn’t enough for a manager to have an “open door” policy. They find that when they try to discuss a problem with their manager, constant interruptions by telephone calls and other people make it impossible to hold a meaningful, coherent discussion. Employees would like to consult their managers in a more relaxed atmosphere. True, this is frequently difficult to arrange, but managers might set aside time when they can give their undivided attention to an employee.
Talk to everyone. More than 75% of the people surveyed were concerned about managers who consistently fraternized with a few favorite employees and virtually ignored the rest. They felt that the manager should spend more time talking with each individual.
Discuss, don’t argue. When a manager and an employee disagree, the employee is more likely to see the manager’s point of view if it is presented in a reasonable, non-dictatorial way. That was the opin-ion of 80% of the workers surveyed. They said that when a manager uses an informal, democratic approach rather than an “I know best” approach, they tend to have more trust and belief in what is said—and this helps them accept new ideas, too.
Some people have a built-in resentment to being taught anything by anybody. They are mildly insulted by the suggestion that there may be something they do not already know. They hate to admit their limitations by word or deed. Others can’t accept as a “teacher” anyone who is younger than they...or shorter...or taller...or better looking...or—you name it. They are such a tangle of prejudices and pride that they find it impossible to listen to anyone of whom they do not entirely approve.
Because you are bound to run into these problem children from time to time in your work, you will save yourself a lot of grief if you take pains to be subtle in your approach.
A soft introductory remark can often turn the trick: “As you may know...” “Let me refresh your memory...”
Sometimes, an appeal for comments works. “Correct me if I’m wrong...” “Does this sound right to you...?”
It may even be good strategy to grope occasionally for the proper words and allow them to “help” you. By permitting them to collaborate on their own instruction, you remove the sting of having to learn from you.
The world, you may have noticed, is not perfect, and this goes double for the world of business. Despite all your precautions, some interruptions in your day are inevitable. Although it may not be possible to anticipate these with precision, you can make some allowance for the general principle, “Something unexpected will occur today.” By establishing priorities and realistically estimating what you can accomplish on any given day, you should be able to deal with the absolutely unavoidable interruption. And should it fail to materialize, you can tackle one or two of your low priority items instead.