“What is effective communication?”
If you’ve ever worked on a team that had a crazy amount of chemistry, you already know the answer. Everything they touched was gold, they produced more than any other team combined, and they had fun doing it.
Unfortunately, you know that that is not the norm. Most teams have people you don’t like, that one person that doesn’t do anything, one person who shows up always talking about their personal life, one person who thinks they’re better than everyone else, and you have to try and make it work.
So, what’s the difference between those two teams?
I would say it all comes down to how they communicate!
Good communication skills are at the heart of successful team building. A survey conducted by the Project Management Institute (PMI) reported that one out of five projects are unsuccessful due to ineffective communication. This underlines how essential communication is within a team, where each member must understand not only their role but also the roles of their team members, the team’s objectives, and how their collective efforts contribute to these goals.
Effective workplace communication goes beyond merely exchanging information – it’s about understanding emotions and intentions behind the information. Two studies by Watson Wyatt Worldwide were performed in 2003 and 2005 to identify which communication practices deliver the best return.
The studies confirmed what we’ve all suspected: good internal communication correlates to higher levels of employee engagement and lower turnover rates. This statistic underscores the importance of addressing poor communication issues if the common goal is team cohesion and enhancing overall team performance.
5 Key Elements of Effective Communication
1. Clear Communication Empowers Teams to Collaborate and Be More Productive
According to communications expert Debra Hamilton, miscommunication costs businesses with up to 100 employees an average of $420,000 per year. This emphasizes “how” we communicate is just as important as “what” we are communicating.
Whether it’s emails, team meetings, or a designated communication platform, ensure that everyone knows how to disseminate and receive information. Some companies may have different communication channels for different departments. That’s okay as long as there is still strong communication that ensures no one is left out.
This is especially true when it comes to remote teams where most of your interactions are through video conferencing, emails, etc. instead of face-to-face communication. The McKinsey Global Institute found that implementing social technologies to improve communication and collaboration could increase productivity by 20-25%.
One caution I would have you consider is having too many different ways to communicate. I have friends that have 4 different calendars, 2 phones, and 18 different apps they have to keep up with. That is a great way for things to fall through the cracks. In a world of information overload, anytime we can simplify things (especially communication channels), the better.
As leaders, it is our job to be crystal clear on a few things:
1. Your Vision – If people don’t know where they are going, when are we getting there, who is coming, and why we are doing it; they will be lost! If you have people who don’t seem passionate, aren’t engaged, or seem like they’re only there to collect a pay check, you might need to make sure you’ve clearly communicated your vision.
2. Your Values – Creating values is not just to make our website look good or ways we can decorate the halls. These are things that the company lives by. You might not think they are important but, when we have clear defined values, this is how people are empowered to make decisions. These are the guardrails for your teams to make sure they are on track and doing the right things on a daily basis.
3. Your Goals – Again, this is how people know that they are focusing on the right things each day they sit down at their desk. This gives them the focus they need to move the needle forward.
2. Active Listening Promotes Stronger Workplace Relationships
Most of the time that we’re “listening” to someone, we’re actually thinking of the next thing we’re going to say. You know it’s true.
A great way to develop listening skills is to practice. At The Leaders Institute, we teach that there are 4 levels of listening:
Get your team into groups of 3. Then, have one person talk about something that happened this weekend. Have another person pick a listening style (pretend or ignore) to use. Meanwhile, have the third person observe and try to determine which style they are using. This gets them used to recognizing how they and others listen.
Chances are, you’ve been speaking and have had people use all 4 of these levels, maybe even in the same conversation. Let’s be honest, you know the difference and you also know how it feels when someone is pretending to listen or ignoring you. In a world of impatience, a good listener needs to have a high emotional intelligence to know when to talk and when not to.
You Have to Listen Before You Can Give Solutions
You probably hear this all the time, but the adage is true: God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason! If there is anything I have learned being a consultant, it’s that listening is more important than talking. When I first got into consulting, I thought the value I brought to my clients was the knowledge in my head. So as a new consultant meeting with a client, I would start giving solutions to problems as soon as it came out of their mouth.
As you could imagine, that didn’t work well. I was trying to solve problems that weren’t their biggest problems. I wouldn’t even let them get to the big problems because I was so eager to help them. When we don’t truly listen to our teams, bosses, or co-workers, we miss the most important things. And that means we won’t be able to solve the most important things.
3. Non-verbal Communication Builds Trust and Rapport Quicker
Nonverbal cues include body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. In a team setting, these non-verbal cues can indicate a team member’s attitude, comfort level, and emotional state. Research suggests that non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, eye contact, and body language can carry up to 55% of the emotional content in messages. When it comes to effective communication skills, strong nonverbal communication is a must.
Educate your team about the impact of non-verbal communication and how it changes the perception of their message. Sometimes body language can send more important messages than what we are actually saying. If you can be more aware of your non-verbal cues, you are more likely to have positive outcomes. A quick Google search for “body language training” is an easy way to make your team more aware and how they can adjust for better results.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of Body Language
I don’t know about you, but I had a mom that could give you a look that scared you to death! She didn’t say anything, but if you got that look you knew you were in trouble. That is the power of nonverbal communication. We don’t typically encounter that kind of look in the workplace, but it can hold the same power in communicating a message. Our facial expressions, our body posture, our hand movements, our eyes; they all tell a story.
Have you ever led a meeting where people in the room are sitting back in their chair with their arms crossed? What does that tell you? They really disagree with what you’re saying, or they don’t want to be there. They didn’t say anything, but you know its true because of the way they’re positioning their body. Perception is everything!
4. Feedback is the Key to Developing High-Capacity Leaders
Feedback help fosters a culture of continuous learning and improvement, enables the correction of missteps, and promotes personal and team growth. A Harvard Business Review study highlighted that 72% of employees thought their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback.
The best way is to cultivate a feedback-rich environment that focuses on growth and development, rather than criticism. This includes both giving and receiving feedback with grace and providing suggestions for improvement. The most important part of giving feedback is making sure we have enough relational capitol with that person. If we don’t, it will almost always be taken negatively and can damage the relationship.
My father-in-law told me one time that you can have the best cooked steak in the world, but if it served on a trash can lid no one will want to eat it. How it is presented is just (if not more) important.
Someone once told me that no one likes feedback! “Never give feedback!” When I say the word “feedback,” you probably get a pit in your stomach. That happens because we immediately start thinking of performance reviews, report cards, or getting called into the boss’s office. Now what do you think of when I say I need to give you some praise? Good things probably come to your mind. Feedback can be positive or negative. What if we rewired our brain so that when we hear the term feedback, we immediately think, “This person is about to tell me a way that I can get better?”
How You Give Feedback Matters
I have two boys at home. When my youngest was 4, he ran out into the road without looking. I freaked out and gave him some “feedback” about why it’s not safe to run out into the road. It scared me and him. I didn’t yell, I just got down on a knee and talked to him about why it’s not safe. He said okay, and we went on with our day.
I think the majority of people don’t like feedback because of how it has been given to them. Zippia did a survey and found that 75% of employees who receive feedback feel that the feedback is valuable and 65% of employees desired more feedback. I think sometimes as leaders we are afraid to hurt people’s feelings when it comes to feedback, but every employee on earth wants to know how they’re doing, and most want to know how they can improve. We don’t have to be a jerk about it.
Ways to give effective feedback:
- Make sure it’s timely and specific (Don’t wait a week before you talk to them)
- Focus on the future (“I’m telling you this because I think you have potential to do great things”)
- Don’t assume you know the whole story (You don’t know what’s going on at home, within the team, etc.)
- Give them a chance to explain (“Here’s what I’m seeing… Is that correct? Can you help me understand?”)
- Be authentic and make sure it comes from a place of caring (Feedback doesn’t have to be buttoned up and super formal, that just makes it weird)
- Make it about the problem, not the person (Don’t attack the person; shame, guilt, and demoralization doesn’t work)
5. A Respectful and Safe Environment Promotes Better Problem Solving and Innovative Teams
A respectful environment encourages open communication and a safe environment where the entire team feels comfortable expressing their ideas and concerns. For this to occur, team members have to be genuinely open to different points of view and not degrade them for those views.
This openness not only fuels innovation and problem-solving, but also creates great employee engagement. One of the ways this type of communication is fostered is through regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings. I once heard someone say that you should never eat lunch alone. Lunch is a great opportunity to apply this!
Going back to point #1, creating a safe respectful environment ties in with our core values. If we use our core values to hire people and we let them know up front that we believe in creating a safe and respectful environment, you will then create a team that has shared values.
However, does that mean they’ll follow those values 100% of the time? No. That’s why it’s so important to consistently and clearly communicate those values. This also means that you will have to hold people accountable to these values, as well. Yes, that even means your top producer, your right-hand person, that person who has been there for 30 years, and even the CEO.
Ways that a respectful and safe environment can be sabotaged
Let’s talk about the word value for a second. All the people that I mentioned above allow the organization to be extremely successful. They add a ton of value to the team. However, I have seen it in multiple organizations where because this person brings so much revenue, experience, productivity, (insert whatever you want) to the company, that the leader lets them do whatever they want. It’s almost like the rules don’t apply to them. This is the point where things can go south.
Due to how human nature works, when someone knows/thinks they are the sole reason for their organization’s success, something clicks in their brain, and immediately they put themselves on a different level than the rest. What makes it worse, the leader has reinforced that belief by bending the rules for them.
If no checks and balances are in place, this person can become very toxic towards the people they work with. Additionally, said person can become entitled and create resentment in others. If left unaddressed, these attitudes can create a negative environment for the other team members (and if they’re worth a lot, they won’t stick around to tolerate it).
Creating a dream team is not easy, but great communication is the vital cog in the machinery of success. Developing effective communication skills within a team is not a one-time task, but a continuous process requiring conscious effort from the leader and every team member on a daily basis. As teams harness the power of effective communication, they evolve into more cohesive, productive, and successful units. The ripple effect of this evolution reaches far beyond the professional sphere, enriching personal relationships and enhancing individual confidence and satisfaction.