Turning Good Managers into Great Managers

Effective communication is one of the most valuable professional assets. For a manager, the right approach to communication could mean better direction for your team, increased morale, and higher productivity. Although accuracy, clarity, and conciseness are essential, interpersonal skills are your most important tool.

Listening Actively

Listening is at the top of our list because it’s the foundation of all good communication. It’s also a skill that employees sometimes find lacking in their managers. A survey from the American Management Association found that 59% of respondents indicated that management did not listen to their concerns, while data from Gallup shows that employee engagement is directly connected to manager approachability and openness.

Engaged employees are productive employees, which makes listening one of the most important skills you can master as a manager.

But not all listening is equal. Be sure to practice active listening, which focuses on thorough comprehension, as opposed to passive, impatient, or distracted approaches. The following techniques should increase your awareness and make your employees feel heard:

  • Be attentive. Listen to the whole message. Remember that your role as a listener is not to interrogate or to give advice. Avoid interrupting, finishing their sentences, or thinking about your response as they are talking. Concentrate on understanding what you are hearing.
  • Use nonverbal signals to demonstrate your engagement. Your employee may shut down if you are staring at them blankly or look confused. Nod, shake your head, lean forward, make eye contact, and provide other cues when appropriate to encourage your employee to continue.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Don’t interrogate your employee or pepper them with leading questions or questions that require a yes or no answer. Instead, ask for detail, context, impressions, and thoughts in order to further your understanding.
  • Paraphrase what you have heard. Being able to accurately restate communication in your own words assures both you and your employee that you really understand the situation. It also provides your employee with the opportunity to correct you if you have misunderstood them or omitted important information.

Perfecting the Feedback Cycle

Once you’ve mastered active listening, you can integrate it into your district’s feedback cycle. In a positive feedback cycle, you give your employees timely feedback without fear of reprisal, which allows them to make necessary adjustments and remain focused on their goals.

This approach has several advantages. Frequent, timely feedback satisfies an employee’s desire for engagement and recognition while simultaneously ensuring that you stay up to speed and have an avenue for sharing important information.

Positive feedback cycles depend entirely on trust; they won’t just materialize because a weekly check-in is on the schedule. To create the best climate, be sure to give feedback in person when possible. Remember that inflection and body language communicate subtext and set the tone. Before providing feedback, begin with active listening and ensure that your employee knows that these interactions are safe. Fear is one of the biggest hindrances to authentic communication, so you should work to avoid a threatening or intimidating environment.

It’s also a good idea to work recognition into your feedback cycle. Bersin research has found that although 80% of corporations have employee recognition programs, only 31% of their employees indicate that they feel valued for doing quality work.

Just doling out an attaboy every now and then is not effective; specific, genuine appreciation is what makes a difference. Feedback sessions are the perfect settings for this. Just remember to separate your praise from your constructive criticism, as the negatives will often overshadow the positives in your employee’s memory.

Improving Your Writing and Speech Skills

No matter how good your interpersonal skills are, if your facility with language is lacking, it can lead to a breakdown in communication. Thankfully, problems with clarity and articulation are easily fixed with attentive editing and practice. When preparing a message, remember the following tips:

  • Know your audience. Whether your message is written or verbal, formal or conversational, the most important factor to consider is your audience. Understanding your employees’ needs and the context of the situation will help you to focus. This will lead to shorter, more effective, and more meaningful meetings, emails, and interactions.
  • Be direct and simple. While it’s easy to get distracted with the specifics of grammar or formatting when you review your work, remember that the goal is clarity. Remove unnecessary words and avoid using jargon.
  • Rehearse formal presentations and prepare for informal conversations. You may already prepare in some way, but it might be worthwhile to rehearse them. Note that rehearsal doesn’t equate to memorization. Rather, a rehearsal will make you more familiar with the physical configuration of your presentation and with the progression of any visual aid you will be using. This will make you more comfortable come showtime.

Preparing in advance for informal conversations can help you to be more present in the moment. Rehearsal isn’t necessary, but you can decide on talking points in advance.

Embracing New Technology

Finally, it’s important to adjust your medium of communication when appropriate. As technology changes, so does everyday communication. Email and traditional file storage systems are being outpaced by a new generation of platforms that bring many different types of digital communication together into one place.

At first, such collaboration technology didn’t affect the way most people approached communication in the workplace, but as more jobs become mobile and a younger generation begins working, that is no longer the case.

Embracing technology keeps you connected, and increases your productivity. A McKinsey Global Institute study found that high-skill knowledge workers spend an average of 19% of their work week searching for and gathering information, and the benefits of collaborative technology are underscored: less wasted time, a more thorough concentration of information, and more effective internal communication.

Bringing It All Together

Effective communication starts with relationship. Honing your listening skills and establishing a positive feedback cycle will go a long way toward improving your district’s day-to-day interactions. When coupled with methods that emphasize clarity and efficiency, these skills can make your team unstoppable.