Matt Driscoll: 10 tips on how to break down manager-employee barriers

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Clear internal communication is absolutely essential for a business to function by ensuring the prevention of confusion about tasks and goals. It also makes a significant contribution with regard to positive employee engagement with the company and with each other, therefore making for a more productive team.

The biggest obstacle to great communication is probably the barrier between employees and senior members of staff, where managers are worried about becoming too friendly with people they are supposed to be in charge of, and employees find it difficult to relate to those they perceive to possess more authority than they do. Here are ten tips to help break it down.

1. Hold regular one-on-one meetings

Build individual relationships with the team, free from distractions. That includes closing the office door, putting the computer to sleep and keeping mobiles on silent. Encourage employees to speak freely away from the rest of the team. You will probably find them opening up more than they might do within the group and it will allow you to find out how they are finding their work as well.

2. Make time for a chat

It can be difficult to have a non-work conversation at work. Try and make time to have a chat with staff in the form of a 15-minute team huddle at the beginning of the day to see how everyone’s doing. This allows you to relate to the team as people, rather than simply as employees.

3. Talk face to face

Email may have become the default method of workplace communication but it also throws up an unexpected barrier because you are no longer communicating face-to-face. It may be fast, convenient and mean that communications are in writing and easily found and referred to if required, but nothing builds relationships like face to face interaction.

Email can also be misconstrued quite easily. As one Inc. blog put it: “words on a page or screen lack the context, tone and nonverbal cues that help people understand your meaning in person. When in doubt, talk face to face.”

4. Develop a coaching culture

There are innumerable benefits to developing a coaching culture, not least of which is fostering a more collaborative approach to problem solving.

If people come to their managers with problems, those managers should always be asking questions – ‘Why?’ ‘How can we resolve this?’ A coaching approach makes employees feel more like they’re working with their manager rather than for their manager.

5. Ask open-ended questions

Open-ended questions provide an opportunity to hear everything someone has to say, rather than just zeroing in on what you want to know. They are also an invitation for the other person to talk.

Be sure to listen to the response. Don’t finish other people’s sentences or second guess what they’re going to say. You just might learn something.

6. Be open with employees

Trust is quickly rewarded. Be open with employees about what’s going on in the company. It will help break down any ‘us and them’ mentality and make them feel more included in the organisation as a whole, as well as more valued by you for placing your trust in them.

7. Meet fears head on

The biggest barrier to effective communication is fear. Let employees know how important their feedback and ideas are, and assure them that a wrong word won’t result in loss of confidence, or worse, disciplinary action.

8. Create formal feedback processes

Suggestion boxes may seem hackneyed, but implementing a process where employees can offer feedback gives a clear signal that critical input is welcome. Offering anonymity may be necessary to remove the fear of repercussions for saying the wrong thing, especially in the early stages.

9. Reward successful input

Actively reward successful input. This can be as little as taking the time to thank employees for contributions, or could be more formalised, like the awarding of a trophy when input solves a problem. Public recognition can encourage others to put ideas forward.

10. Take feedback seriously

Even if you disagree, be sure to take all feedback seriously. You want to create a culture of openness where employees feel comfortable expressing themselves. There’s no quicker way of destroying that culture than dismissing valid, sensible input when it comes.

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About Matt Driscoll

Matt Driscoll is L&D Consultant focusing on Leadership and Management at Thales L&D. Matt has over 13 years' experience in learning and development, Matt is genuinely passionate about helping people improve themselves. His specialism lies in taking a deeply consultative approach – helping his customers solve their real-world business challenges.

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