The SESCO Report – June 2019

How to Improve Workplace Communication Skills: A Guide for Managers

(Excerpt from SESCO's Vital Learning Leadership Training System)

SESCO's exclusive Management and Employee Opinion Survey Program, without exception, identifies poor communications from managers as the leading cause of employee turnover, poor productivity, low morale, ineffective teamwork, and other workplace and cultural issues affecting the bottom line. Thus, it is critical that leadership fill the void of this ineffective communication by understanding not only the importance of effective communication and related processes and systems but how to communicate to include listening. The following are excerpts from SESCO's Vital Learning Training for Leaders that is available in classroom as well as online training.

When it comes to communication between a manager and their team, there is always room for improvement. Improving workplace communication across your organization should be a goal for every business leader and one that brings increased productivity to your team. When it comes to being a manager, having the ability to communicate effectively is one of the most important skills to have.

Billionaire businessman Warren Buffet told a classroom of business students that being an effective communicator doubles your value in the workplace.

It's a common misconception that powerful communication skills come naturally to some, and that they can't be taught. This couldn't be farther from the truth. Anyone who makes an effort to be mindful about the way they are communicating in the workplace can improve their communication skills with a few helpful tips.

An Effective Communicator is An Expert Listener

A key difference between an effective communicator and a poor one is the value that each person places on listening. Improving your workplace communication skills starts with being a better listener.

The most important aspect of listening is also the most simple: instead of waiting for your next opportunity to speak, make a concerted effort to absorb everything your employee is saying before thinking of your response. While this may seem obvious, it's something we all do from time to time.

Do you genuinely care about what your team members are telling you? Then show them!

As a manager, it's important to demonstrate solid listening skills for a number of reasons:

  • When employees feel "heard" they're more likely to take risks with the ideas they voice
  • You don't have all the answers — seeking new opinions and perspectives is always a good idea
  • When you demonstrate positive listening skills your team members are more likely to follow suit

Listening is one of the essential communication skills that no manager should ignore. When managers start every professional interaction with effective listening, they build a strong foundation for future communication.

Organize Your Thoughts — Be Clear and Concise

Think before you speak to guide the interpretation of your message

One of the biggest communication mistakes made not only in the workplace, but also in life is speaking before you've thought through your words. One of the most important communication skills for managers is being able to effectively organize thoughts, and to deliver them in a way that is easy to understand.

Here are some things to think about when crafting a message:

  • The goal of your message
  • How your message impacts others
  • The key points you want to convey
  • What tone you're using

There are definitely times when speaking freely without these constraints can be beneficial. For instance, when you're in the early stages of brainstorming with your team or openly discussing solutions to a pervasive issue. Dumping all of your thoughts about a problem out at once can provide solutions you may not have thought about before.

Where this becomes a problem, however, is when there's a specific goal you're trying to achieve with your message. Are you having a feedback conversation with a team member? Organizing your thoughts can help them better understand where you're coming from, and areas they can improve upon. If you simply share all of your general thoughts, your specific points of feedback will get lost in the mix.

Use short and simple words — avoid "fluff"

Using simple and straightforward language can ensure that your messages are easily understood and leave no room for misinterpretation.

We've all been there: you receive an email, notice how long it is, and either skim through it or move it to a "to-do" folder to deal with later. On the flip side — when you're writing a long email (or any form of written communication) yourself, every word seems important and you expect the recipient to think so too. Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen. In order to have your message be delivered effectively, make an effort to condense your thoughts as much as you can while retaining the original intent of the message.

Try this exercise next time you send an email to a team member:

  1. Write the email as you normally would
  2. Try and find one sentence that you can completely eliminate
  3. Identify any long or complicated words and phrases you can replace

Once you've done this a few times, you'll notice that your tendencies will naturally shift towards being more clear and concise in your messaging.

Here are some examples of common words and phrases, and some shorter alternatives to them:

(This is a snippet of our Essential Skills of Communicating course):

  • Originate → Start
  • Obtain → Get
  • On the basis of → Because
  • Disburse → Give
  • Component → Part
  • Sufficient → Enough
  • With the exception of → Except for
  • Disclose → Tell

Next time you notice yourself getting "wordy" in your communication or failing to organize your thoughts effectively, take a step back and think of things from the perspective of your employees. Would you take the time to immediately read this entire email if it landed in your inbox? Are you speaking in circles, and failing to "make a point" with your message? Think back to these tips and improve your communication skills one conversation at a time.

Consider Who You're Communicating With

People have preferences whether you like it or not

Figuring out the communication preferences of your team members is crucial if you want to ensure that your messages resonate. If you're not sure about your employees' communication preferences, don't be afraid to ask. Getting this right can mean the difference between establishing an effective channel of communication, and having your messages go un-heard.

At the risk of over-simplifying this tenant of workplace communication, here are some analogies to keep in mind when considering the preferences of your team members:

  • A PC can't run a program built for a Mac computer
  • You wouldn't walk into a Chinese restaurant and order Pizza
  • You can't string up a guitar with a set of ukulele strings
  • You wouldn't tee up with a basketball during a round of Golf

In the same sense, the way you communicate with your team members should be specific to their preferences and tendencies.

When you're communicating as a manager, there are a few things to think about in terms of their communication preferences:

  • Format
    • Do they prefer written communication over verbal? Send them an email.
    • Do they seem to respond better during face-to-face meetings? Make an effort to communicate with them that way.
  • Level of detail
    • Some people prefer a broad overview, and some prefer that you communicate EVERYTHING about a given topic. Determine the level of detail your employees prefer and be consistent in your communications with them.
  • Goals/motivations
    • What motivates your team members? Think about how you can shift your communication style to appeal to what gets them excited.

Paying close attention to the preferences of your employees will pay huge dividends in improving your communication skills as a manager. When done correctly, this makes your team members feel like you're communicating with them as opposed to at them.

Know When, If and How to Communicate

When and how should you communicate a given message as a manager? Or should you even communicate the message at all?

The "when, if and how" of communicating any message is your chance to be strategic. Developing a communication strategy can help draw focus on the importance, method, and context of how you're communicating. Delivery is everything, so to get a point across successfully, they must evaluate the "when, if and how."

  • When: Know the time and place that your message should be delivered. Whether it's in a group setting or privately, when you deliver a message impacts its reception.
  • If: Is this communication absolutely necessary? Over-communicating is tedious. Effective communication often means only discussing what's necessary to get the best results.
  • How: What is the best channel for this communication? An essential skill of communication is knowing the best way to get your message across. Is it in person, over the phone or via email? Be strategic with the channel you use to communicate.

Instilling Communication Skills Across Your Organization

It's one thing to improve your communication skills as a manager, but organizations with the highest level of communication take things a step further.

Ensuring that everyone in an organization understands the tenants of effective communication can improve workplace culture tremendously. This can be done in a number of ways:

  • Having everyone "speak the same language" by implementing Management Communication Skills Training
  • Giving periodic reminders of effective communication skills
  • Coaching team members on their communication skills when the opportunities arise.

An important thing to remember is that managers aren't born with effective communication skills. Great communications draw on their experience and lessons they've learned while communicating throughout their careers. Be conscious of how you're sending messages to others in your workplace and make an effort to improve your skills as often as possible.

Government Plans Affirmative Action Program Audits in Fiscal Year 2019

Under Executive Order 11246, federal contractors and subcontractors are required to develop a written Affirmative Action Program (AAP). Each non-construction contractor/subcontractor with 50 or more employees is required to develop a written Affirmative Action Program for each of its establishments within 120 days from the start of the federal contract, if it:

  • Has a federal contract or subcontract of $50,000 or more;
  • Has government bills of lading which in any 12-month period total, or can reasonably be expected to total, $50,000 or more;
  • Serves as a depository of federal funds in any amount (banks and credit unions); or
  • Is a financial institution that is an issuing and paying agent for U.S. Savings Bonds and Savings Notes in any amount.

The OFCCP (Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs) is planning to audit this fiscal year a minimum of 3,500 employers who are required to maintain Affirmative Action Programs. These audits may consist of compliance evaluations, compliance checks and focused reviews. This is the first time since fiscal year 2014 that the OFCCP has planned to schedule more than 3,000 audits.

SESCO also has seen an increase in requests surrounding the 503 regulations. With the OFCCP's plan to conduct focused reviews, contractors should begin checking their internal practices to ensure that they are complying with the regulations, not just with Executive Order 11246, but also 503 and VEVRAA (as applicable).

SESCO will continue to monitor the OFCCP's movement on the release of the new scheduling list along with the type of reviews they will be conducting. If you question whether or not you are required to have a compliant Affirmative Action Program or question whether or not your current plan is, in fact, compliant, SESCO specializes in reviewing, preparing and representing clients before the OFCCP. Please feel free to call before you are notified.

SESCO Client Feedback

"You are our new best friend! Thank you so much. It was a pleasure working with your team, Bill." ~ Lisa Love, Human Resources Coordinator — St. Johns County Council on Aging, Inc.

"Bill, Joel Cullum provided Holston Habitat's managers with an informative presentation on the drug and alcohol employee policy and its enforcement this morning. We sure appreciate the expertise of SESCO Management and your staff and send our thanks for helping us do our work with more assurance. We are grateful." ~ Trish Patterson, Executive Director — Holston Habitat for Humanity

Special Thanks to New SESCO Clients!

Braswell and Sons
Little Rock, AR

Sterling Motorcars
Sterling, VA

Nippon Pulse America, Inc.
Radford, VA

Elite Care Services
Madison Heights, VA

Atlanta Gear & Axle, Inc.
Atlanta, GA

Lincoln Medical Center
Fayetteville, TN

Johnson City Housing Authority
Johnson City, TN

Featured SESCO Client

Bankers Insurance

An association of community banks formed Bankers Insurance in 1999. However, their roots trace back to 1896. Bankers Insurance is now Virginia's second largest privately-owned independent insurance agency which has offices throughout Virginia and North Carolina. "Hometown friendly and multi-state strong" describes the focus of maintaining long-standing relationships with their clients and communities.

Bankers Insurance, LLC
(800) 541-1419

Communication Skills Cheat Sheet

1: Be clear and concise

  • Organize your thoughts
  • Use short — simple words. Eliminate "fluff"

2: Consider who you're communicating with

  • What are their interests? Do they have specific communication preferences?
  • What do they need to know, and what do they want to know?

3: Listen to communicate

  • Re-state their main points, clarify what you think you heard
  • Focus on absorbing what they say, not your next talking point

4: Manage your nonverbals effectively

  • Do: maintain eye contact, keep
  • Focus on absorbing what they say, not your next talking point