In the much-cited report, “The Cost of Poor Communication,” David Grossman notes that companies lose an average of $62.4 million per year due to poor internal comms.
According to an article in Business Communication Research and Practice, weak workplace communication also leads to this laundry list of hazards: “overuse of resources, lower efficiency, lack of innovation, more errors, legal complications, recruitment issues, and adequate staffing problems.”
In contrast, effective communication, which occurs when information is exchanged the way it was intended, can enhance all the things that poor communication hinders.
Despite communication’s reputation as a “soft” skill — a moniker that grates the ears of college English professors everywhere — improving internal comms can be hard to do. It relies on purposeful strategies from leaders committed to building an engaged and high-performing workplace.
Here are five tips managers can use to make headway on improving internal communication to create a stronger, more collaborative workforce. Bonus: the boosted productivity and retention will support a stronger bottom line (keeping the C-suite happy, too).
Tip 1: Support different communication styles
One of the most important steps managers can take to improve internal comms is to understand employee communication styles and preferences.
For instance, extroverts and introverts likely approach workplace communication differently. Extroverts may prefer real-time out-loud brainstorming sessions, while introverts need time to step away and collect their thoughts before contributing.
Reminder: quiet employees are not necessarily weak communicators. In fact, their thoughtful approach to idea generation may mean less quantity communication but more quality input.
Managers can encourage employees to adopt an assertive communication style appropriate for the workplace. Unlike passive or aggressive styles of communication, assertive communication emphasizes honest, straightforward dialogue and a balance of confident expression of one’s own ideas with respect for the ideas of others.
Signs of assertive communication include eye contact, a relaxed demeanor, and the use of “I” statements in conversation, like, “I believe X is the best approach.”
At the same time, managers should be cautious not to misread assertive communication as aggression when it involves women and minorities who are often stigmatized for displays of confidence. As Columbia Business School professor Daniel Ames notes in regard to assertive communication, “The range of latitude for women is smaller for what they can get away with.” People leaders should pay close attention to how bias shapes communication in the workplace and be ready to offer extra support to employees who face additional hurdles to speaking up.
Tip 2: Encourage open and honest communication
The notion of a “psychologically safe” workplace is oft-talked about, but how is it actually achieved?
It starts with treating internal communication as a two-sided activity that involves as much empathetic listening as it does speaking. Managers who dedicate as much time to gathering feedback from employees as they do giving it will encourage respect, trust, and honest conversation. In other words… feedback is a two-way street.
This leads to better productivity and retention, which are time and money-saving benefits. According to a 2022 Engagement and Retention Report from Achievers Workforce Institute, 52% of employees stay in jobs when they feel valued and supported, and replacing an employee costs about one-third of the employee’s annual salary, including all the productivity lost in the interim period.
Additionally, new research shows that strong internal communication is also vital to meaningful DEI initiatives that empower and support traditionally marginalized employees. The study found that when management strategically incorporates conversations about gender equality into the workplace, female employees feel more empowered, and as a result, they are more likely to take initiative in addressing workplace discrimination and inequality.
Managers that initiate important and sometimes difficult conversations encourage others to join in and be proactive in creating a workplace that supports employee engagement and wellness.
Tip 3: Be clear about tasks and agendas
Employees perform best when management provides clear, specific goals and agendas.
Clarity and focus give employees a better sense of direction and purpose in their work, which is part of developing workplace grit and the ability to persevere through unexpected challenges. Otherwise, the vision of management might be at odds with the values of employees, and teams may struggle to collaborate effectively.
A simple place to start: internal meetings. While finding a day, time, and the necessary attendees is table-stakes, establishing and communicating a clear purpose and agenda isn’t quite as common, unfortunately.
Let’s break it down.
- Take time to prep beforehand by outlining a meeting agenda. Set and respect parameters for time, topics, and goals.
- Give employees the agenda in advance. That gives them lead time to reflect on what questions they might have and what they want to contribute (and/or if they need to be in attendance at all). This goes back to respecting different communication styles, since some employees may need more time to process and respond than others.
- At the end of the meeting, summarize short and long-term goals and follow up with meeting notes and reminders
Tip 4: Be as simple and straightforward as possible
Surely, there are benefits to having a seemingly infinite amount of information available to us all the time, but those plusses come with a dark side: information overload.
According to an article from Business Research, information overload occurs when “decision-makers face a level of information that is greater than their information processing capacity.” The result: stalled performance, tanking creativity, and plain and simple unhappiness.
An influx of information dampens our ability to focus and stay on pace to hit goals. As reported in Time, humans have a shorter attention span than goldfish (goldfish have us beat by one second).
With that in mind, managers should be realistic about how much information their audience can absorb and use. Finding the sweet spot between keeping teams informed but not overwhelmed is key to creating an environment where information spurs success without sabotaging it.
Tip 5: Tailor internal comms to your audience
American psychiatrist Milton Erickson once said:
“The effectiveness of communication is not defined by the communication, but by the response.”
For the sender, it’s easy to know the intent of an email, text, or message, but it’s a different matter altogether to ensure the receiver gets that message with the same level of “crystal” clarity that Jack Nicholson demands from Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men.
The audience should shape the what, when, and how of the communication. For instance, entry-level employees might not need the same information as middle managers and vice versa, and bombarding everyone with the same comms is often overwhelming and unnecessary. It might also condition employees to tune out communication if they anticipate most of it is irrelevant.
Managers should consider how specific word choice, punctuation, and style will land on the ears and eyes of the receiver, especially when so much internal communication happens digitally.
Even if you are grinning ear to ear when you send a message, the words themselves may come across as cold and distant on the receiving end. This is where those hyper-exaggerated laughing and grinning emojis come into play.
Whether you’re “pro-emoji” or not, for internal comms at least, they may be worth a try every now and then to soften the potentially robotic tone of digital messaging.
Bottom line: internal comms is more than the delivery of data and information. Communication is a powerful tool for building relationships, trust, and a more empowered workforce, and it might make dollars signs of difference.
Learn more about maximizing the potential of your team by reaching out to discuss our live cohort-based communications trainings.