One sentence with the same words can have many different meanings. Zig Ziglar showed how the sentence “I did not say he beat his wife” could have eight different meanings. Each time you change the voice inflection on a word you change the meaning. Clearing sending a message is not simple. You must consider the words and the way the words are delivered.
Recently I met executives of a Westchester County New York company. The employees felt that there were a lot of changes but also believed that management was not keeping them informed. Productivity almost always suffers in times of great change because employee stress dramatically increases due to the universal fear of the unknown. Often senior executives genuinely believe they are communicating with employees when it comes to matters that affect them. Unfortunately, they often underestimate the number of matters that includes.
As a manager do you know with certainty what is important to employees and what to tell them? The only way to know is to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their position and mindset. Think to yourself, “If I were hearing this information what would I thinking right now given the current situation?” If you were that employee what would be important for you to know? What is the worst thing that could happen, and would you want to know about it in advance? How would you want to be told?
How would you be answering these questions? You can’t answer the questions without the input from your staff—the people affected by the changes. Depending on how much you can discuss, or how much is already known, you might ask a few individuals what the grapevine is saying, and what people are worrying and wondering about.
Now, armed with this information, draft the answers to the questions. Of course, they must be truthful answers, for insincerity is easily recognized and will deal a deathblow to your communication efforts. Then they must be couched in terms that are clear and uncompromising, but also considerate and compassionate. It's worth spending some time on this part. Lack of commitment to your message is also easily read and will automatically raise the cynicism level among employees.
You should carefully consider the media used to communicate your message. The way a person receives news can dramatically affect how he or she feels about it, so you need to choose the medium very carefully. E-mail can be perceived as cold and unfeeling in many cases, although it is useful for routine updates that don't have emotional overtones. Some messages are better spoken, either by managers to their groups or by the CEO to the whole organization.
If the messengers don't have highly developed communication skills, it's worth engaging services of people can coach them in the tools of two-way communication. The message must remain honest, clear, and compassionate.
And above all, follow through on your commitments and promises. Nothing turns employees off more than empty words. Sincere, caring, ongoing communication can form the basis for building employee engagement when the present time of turmoil ends.
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