The Boss’s Guide To Communicating So Your Staff Will Listen

How many times have you sent out a company-wide email, only for half of your staff to ignore it? If you’re like a lot of professionals, this has likely happened countless times and no amount of follow-up about the importance has helped. Or, maybe you’ve had meetings with team members who then ignore everything you said the minute they’re back at their desks. These are frustratingly common issues, and it may feel like you’ve done everything to get through to your employees – but don’t despair just yet.

While some employees are naturally responsive, there will always be times when you feel like you’re not being heard, and that often has a lot less to do with what you’re saying than how you’re saying it. Mastering a broader range of communication skills will help you reach your employees more effectively, because workplace communication doesn’t need to be this hard.

It’s All Relational

The first step to communicating so that your employees will listen requires that you take a step back from saying anything at all. That’s because effective communication begins with relationships. As an employer, then, learning to be an active listener and to listen with empathy to your employees is an important part of establishing a situation in which they’ll be responsive to other types of feedback.

The Medium Is The Message

“The medium is the message” is a communication principle developed by Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s, but whether or not you’re familiar with this theory, you probably understand it in a deeper sense. For example, you would never put a condolence message on a billboard because that wouldn’t be appropriate. Well, the same idea applies to workplace communications, and you need to ensure you’re communicating with your staff in ways that are coherent with what you’re saying. So, what does that look like?

In the workplace, integrating the idea that the medium is the message often means mixing up the tools you use and being attentive to how people use different platforms and strategies. That might mean that you might use an internal SMS tool to contact staff about a brief, non-urgent scheduling update, making phone calls for more urgent contacts that you need to confirm were received, and using emails sparingly for longer communications. It’s all about being strategic in your choices because they really do matter.

Make It A Conversation

Too much workplace communication seems like a lecture and that’s probably because, at its heart, it is. People in positions of authority often address those “below” them in the hierarchy as though they don’t get to have any input on the situation. Be sure you take stock of how you engage with your team, ask open-ended questions, seek feedback, and be responsive to questions. Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you can’t be responsive to your employees’ concerns and, in fact, if you’re not able to engage in these ways, consider this an opportunity to work on your leadership skills.

While there are many other tools and approaches that can help you communicate with your employees, the key to success isn’t trying to use every approach in the book. Instead, it’s about being attuned to your team and understanding that you’re all doing your best. Over time, you’ll all learn what communication tools work best, and hit your stride as a professional team.

Rylie Holt