Business Solutions Forum: How did I become such a poor communicator?

I started my own business about 15 years ago. Recently, several employees approached me, concerned that they weren’t being kept informed about plans and results. In essence, they were complaining about my communications. How could I have gone from a great communicator to a poor communicator in a just a few years? Our Expert Network sheds some light on the situation.
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Q. I started my own business about 15 years ago. I have always taken pride in how well I communicate with my employees. A few years ago, I ran into a former employee and he told me how he liked the fact that I had made a point to tell him what I was working on, what I needed from him, and how the company was doing. However, recently, several employees from one department approached me, concerned that they weren’t being kept informed about plans and results. They also told me they had lots of thoughts about how things could be done better. In essence, they were complaining about my communications. I was shocked! How could I have gone from a great communicator to a poor communicator in a just a few years?

A. It might be that your communication skills have not deteriorated. Instead, the problem could be your communication skills and techniques are precisely the same as they were years ago. You have not evolved along with your company.

The amount of communicating you do, the information you convey and collect, and the media you use for communicating, all must evolve just to maintain an adequate level of communication with your team. There are three reasons for this.

First, it sounds like the size of your company has grown. You can no longer rely solely on the one-on-one, face-to-face conversations that your former employee liked so much.

Second, technology has changed. Fifteen years ago email wasn’t relied upon as much as it is now. Things like Twitter and text messaging were non-existent.

Third, people change. To a substantial extent, what people want to hear and how they want to hear it has changed. And if there has been a change in how people want to be heard, it is that they want to be heard more.

What should you do about it? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Recognize that how you communicated in the past is not good enough now.
  • Make communication a priority; spend prescribed time communicating each day.
  • Be deliberate. Constantly consider what information you need to share with your team, and what information you need to gather from your team, and then take decisive action to do so. Don’t rely on chance conversations.
  • Listen more. We have two ears and one mouth; strive to use them in that proportion. As a first step, listen to your team about the best ways to communicate with them.
  • Employ a multi-faceted communications strategy. With the size of your company, the complexity of life, and the diversity of the workforce, no single medium for communicating a given message is adequate. For example, if it is important to communicate a certain message to your entire team, try sending an email, posting a memo on a bulletin board or posting a poster with the message conveyed in a more graphic manner.

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