Good managers are also good communicators. After all, it’s impossible to turn strategy into action unless you can connect with your staff — encouraging them, inspiring them and listening to their concerns.
Unfortunately, not all managers are good managers. And the inability to be an effective leader can often stem from poor communication skills.
In a recent Robert Half Management Resources survey, workers were asked what skill they think their manager needs to improve most. The top response, cited by 30 percent of workers, was "communication and diplomacy." An even higher percentage of millennial professionals (36 percent) said their bosses need to improve communication and be more diplomatic.
Here are some strategies that new managers and seasoned leaders can both use to help improve their communication abilities:
1. Get honest feedback
This first step can be tough, but you need to find out what others really think about your communication skills. Ask your staff, colleagues and supervisors to share a frank assessment of your writing, speaking and presentation abilities. Explain that you want to refine these crucial skills and would welcome all constructive criticism.
If you sense your employees might be hesitant to provide feedback because they fear negative repercussions, consider conducting an anonymous survey.
2. Know your audience
One size does not fit all when it comes to effective communication. Good leaders understand the diverse needs of their staff and tailor their messages accordingly.
For example, your Gen Z workers may want frequent but informal in-person feedback, while your boomer employees may prefer to receive emails and attend monthly touch-base meetings.
3. Put in extra effort at crisis time
Good communication is especially critical during major endeavors like a merger. But it can be tempting, with everything else you have to do, to eschew “nonessentials” like one-on-one meetings and staff updates.
A time of change is the precise time to keep people more in the loop, however. Failure to do so can lead to frustration, confusion and low morale. So, make staff communication a non-negotiable aspect of project and change management.
4. Listen more (and more closely)
Listening is a critical nontechnical skill for all accounting and finance professionals to master, but especially managers. Your staff members need to know that you’ll take their concerns seriously when something is on their mind or if they have questions. But if you’re the one who is doing all the talking, all the time, you can’t tune in.
Active listening means giving the other person your full attention, noting their nonverbal cues and focusing on their words rather than silently formulating a response while they are speaking to you.
5. Be available
In this era of open office-spaces and remote working, a literal "open door" policy may not be relevant. However, the concept of keeping the door open to communication is still very much applicable in the modern workplace.
Be an accessible boss, both physically and digitally. Give employees plenty of options for communicating with you, such as in person, email or phone. Most of all, make sure your team members feel welcome and not like they’re interrupting you.
6. Paint the big picture
Whenever possible, help people understand the connection between their duties and the broader strategic goals of the organization. Engagement and productivity rise when employees know their work matters.
Some questions you might want to address include: How do your employees fit in the organization? What are the key objectives that all team members need to work toward? And how do their contributions specifically help the business to realize those goals?
7. Embrace straight talk
Research by our company shows that workers value integrity above all other traits in business leaders. So, be sure that quality shines through in all interactions with your staff.
It can be tempting to sugarcoat difficult messages or gloss over facts when you want to help your employees feel secure and motivated. However, such tactics, as well-meaning as they might be, are likely to backfire in time. And if your employees don’t trust you, communication will break down completely and morale will plummet. Straight talk is hard, but sincerity is a much better communication strategy than being vague or over-promising.
Effective communication is an overused phrase, but there’s a reason for that: It’s an absolute requirement for today’s finance leaders — and a skill set that many need to improve.
Looking for more tips?
For more suggestions on how to improve your communication skills, and for more analysis of demographic-specific results from our recent survey, see this post.
Also, check out this advice for managing a multigenerational team effectively, and understanding the communication preferences of workers from different demographic groups.