Understand and Leverage Healthy Communication Skills in the Workplace
At Best Christian Workplaces Institute, we have identified Healthy Communication as one of the eight drivers of employee engagement in Christian organizations. Investing energy and creativity into growing your communication skills and equipping your team for healthy communication provides long-term benefits to your organization.
“Communication is the glue that holds an organization together. It is the means by which we exchange ideas, learn from each other, and perhaps most importantly, connect to each other.” John Baldoni, Harvard Business Review, 5 Way to Sharpen Your Communication Skills
- Listening as a leader is the starting place for healthy communications.
- Encouragement is an essential foundation for showing value while communicating.
- Understanding and leveraging different communication styles will maximize your effectiveness.
- Reinforcing messages is important for impacting workplace culture.
What do you say first as a leader? What is the starting point for healthy communication skills in the workplace?
Nothing. The first step to great communication isn’t saying anything, it is listening!
Pam Marmon, author of No One’s Listening and It’s Your Fault and communications and change consulting expert, shares about the importance of listening on The Flourishing Culture Podcast:
“The communication model that I share in my book uses this acronym LESS, which stands for Listen, Engage, Speak, and Solve. As I started to formulate the model, I realized that the bulk of the change-management activities have to do with listening, to gather information—so leaders are in tune with the organization.”
You can download Pam Marmon’s Change Communications Strategy Template to implement her process in your own situation. And remember, it all starts with listening.
The number one need of employees of organizations that we serve is the desire to be heard. People want leaders to listen to their input, ideas, and concerns.
Giselle Jenkins, SPHR, is Culture Consulting Director at BCWI and has invested more than two decades in helping employees and teams at every level to cultivate the art of listening well:
“One way to kick start your way back to healthy communication levels and build trust is to conduct a listening tour. Although the variety of formats is endless, the primary goal is to listen well and truly hear what an employee wants to say to you.”
Learn more about generous listening on a recent BCWI blog.
A listening leader asks good questions and probes with an attitude of curiosity, not judgment.
If you want to understand employees’ motivations, thoughts, and goals better, practice asking open-ended questions. Jennifer Currence, president of consulting firm The Currence Group, uses the acronym TED, which stands for:
- Tell me more.
- Explain what you mean.
- Define that term or concept for me.
Her insight is part of a Harvard Business School Online Business Insights Blog on 8 Essential Leadership Communication Skills.
Leaders of flourishing organizations have learned to listen well to their employees. While this can include informal activities to hear from employees, an annual employee survey tool like the BCWI Employee Engagement Survey helps you systematically listen to your people. The survey also provides actionable results based on BCWI’s years of experience.
From a solid base of understanding developed by listening to your people, then you can move into additional healthy communication skills. As you move from listening to communicating with your team, what do they need first?
Fantastic Teams who communicate well and excel in their work display an environment of encouragement.
Doug Mazza, now retired from his role as President of Joni and Friends, a BCWI Certified Organization, shared about equipping fantastic teams on The Flourishing Culture Podcast:
People are dying for encouragement. They should be living for encouragement. When you are an encourager, you are letting people know their value…. They know I’m the president. I don’t need to convince them how smart I am. I need to convince them how smart they are, because with encouragement, people will exceed their own expectations, and they will find enjoyment in doing it. And that means engagement.
Communicating encouragement to your work team creates engagement and excellence. They start to believe in their skills and capabilities. Encouragement is contagious—people who feel valued will share encouragement with those in their sphere of influence.
How do you encourage people?
Encouragement starts with a “you” focus, not a “me” focus. It’s about considering the people around you, rather than highlighting your own skills. Entering communication interactions with this humble attitude as a leader is a characteristic of Christian leadership, and helps people understand that they matter.
To make your encouragement realistic and specific, you need to know your people. Real encouragement isn’t just checking off a series of rote comments. Effective encouragement demonstrates a deeper understanding of the work people are engaged in and the accomplishments, large and small, they contribute to. This understanding comes from listening and observation, which was the first step of communications we addressed.
Practical Tip—effective workplace encouragement:
- Scenario A: You see an employee from the fundraising team in the hallway and say, “Nice job on the fundraising letter.”
- Scenario B: You make a point of stopping by to talk to the writer on the fundraising team and say, “On that last fundraising letter you did a great job of using a ministry story to reinforce our strategy as a ministry in an authentic way.”
After hearing the message of Scenario A the employee thinks, “She has no idea what it actually takes to write a great fundraising letter.”
After Scenario B the employee thinks, “Wow, I didn’t expect her to notice that. I’m going to work on an idea for the next letter right now!”
Employees who are heard and valued are much more likely to invest deeply in the mission of your organization.
From a base of strong listening and encouragement, you can move into additional healthy communication skills to propel your team forward.
Understand and Leverage Different Communication Styles
Effective communication is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. The more you can tailor communication to address different styles, the more effective you will be in reaching shared goals.
Consider the analogy of GPS versus using a map for different ways to get to a destination. When you are in an unfamiliar city and you want to get from your hotel to a meeting with a potential partner, how do you proceed? For many, the first step is telling your smartphone where you want to go and letting it tell you each turn in sequence. But others want to look at a map, to know the route from a high-level perspective before they head out the door.
Neither approach is right or wrong, just based on different styles or personalities. The first approach is “functional”—one step at a time. The second approach is “intuitive” for those who are big picture thinkers.
Just as we have different ways of navigating unfamiliar territory, so there are different ways to communicate within teams. These different communication styles were developed by Mark Murphy, of Leadership IQ, and are described in a Fast Company article:
- Analytical – based on data and clear definitions
- Intuitive – big picture thinkers
- Functional – everything one step at a time
- Personal – relationships over information exchange
Considering different communication styles will make you more effective in all your interactions. And it will help your messages get delivered rather than lost.
Think about how you conduct a staff meeting—whether you have 4 people, or 400, or 4000—you have a goal for what you want to communicate to your people. And you have a preferred style of communication. But an effective leader realizes that they need to offer something for each style represented in the room or on the zoom call.
An impossible task? No, but something you want to creatively prepare for. Otherwise, why have all these people together in a meeting if they are not going to receive the communication you intend to deliver?
To PowerPoint or Not To PowerPoint?
Slide decks are a popular way to offer visual cues for communication, particularly in a larger setting. They are sometimes overused and maligned, but they can augment your communications. No right or wrong answer here. The bottom line is that some people need visual cues to guide them through content. These cues can be tailored to cover analytical, intuitive, functional, or personal communication styles.
Here are a few slide designs that could be adapted to effectively hit different styles.
- Top Line—have a purpose statement to engage the intuitive
- Bullets—3 steps that move your organization toward that purpose—for the functional
- Subsequent slide—Background data on why this purpose and course of action matter—for the
- Beginning and end—Tie into a real-life ministry or business example. A ministry recipient whose life will be better because of this initiative. A customer whose needs are being met—for the personal
These visual cues can also be on the walls of meeting rooms, whiteboard or flip chart, zoom screen, or a notetaking mechanism for people to follow along. A study by The Economist Business Intelligence Unit found that people feel that visual-based communication tools are most effective, but are not used as often as email, the most common method of workplace communications.
Not Good, Better, Best
When addressing different communication styles, we may subtly believe that our own style is the best style, and the other styles are something we need to accommodate to be effective. While it is admirable to want to address other styles, this kind of thinking will always skew our interactions.
Think instead of the great value that your team can receive from a diversity of approaches and styles. If you are the analytical, what can you learn from the personal style? How is the overall effectiveness of your team expanded because of different styles? Yes, communication may take more time and effort, but the process multiplies the value of your team.
Just like the Apostle Paul reminds us that there are various gifts in the body of Christ, and we need each other—in work teams, there are various communication styles and we truly are better when we work together with people who have different styles.
Go deeper into communication styles
In smaller team settings within your organization, you can dig deeper into communication styles. Just as our appreciation for others and ability to work well together can grow through assessments such as the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, or StrengthsFinder—so an appreciation for different communication styles can enhance team effectiveness. There is a quick online assessment from Leadership IQ that can lead to engagement and understanding within workgroups.
Once you have identified different styles within your team—maximize the benefit of this information in assigning roles during team meetings.
Practical application of communication styles in a team meeting:
- Assign someone who is an intuitive communicator to periodically make sure the group is tracking with the overall purpose and vision.
- Invite the analytical communicator to notice what additional information might be needed for a decision.
- Give space for the personal communicator to remind the team how a project or task will impact ministry recipients or customers.
- Let the functional communicator summarize the next steps at the end of a meeting.
Keep On Communicating
Healthy communication isn’t something that happens once a month or once a quarter in your organization. It is the ongoing work of leadership, every single day, to keep employees engaged and moving toward common goals.
Pam Marmon, in a BCWI blog, reminds us of the need to keep on communicating, and that repetition is important:
- repeat your message 7 times if you want your audience to hear it,
- cascade your message throughout the organization to enhance leadership alignment and demonstrate a cohesive message to your audience, and
- strive for live, face-to-face delivery, and if this is not possible leverage group communications that ensure efficient message consistency.
While you might tire of repeated messages, they are essential to help unify your team around vision and goals. Remember, by the time you have crafted a message to share with your staff, you have been thinking about the big idea for days if not months. Other people may be hearing the message cold, for the very first time. So, they need repetition to have the message register in the midst of competing noise.
What is one healthy communication practice you can emphasize in the coming week or month? Do you need to listen more effectively, or encourage more specifically?
Are you ready to dive into a clearer understanding of different styles of communication and their role in a healthy workplace?
Or is your organization in need of a system of repetition, to keep key messages in front of people as you build a flourishing workplace culture?
Investing in healthy communication skills for yourself and your team is an essential part of continuing to develop engaged employees and a thriving workplace.
John Maxwell, the leadership expert, reminds us that the main point of communication is connecting and building relationship. In his book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, he shares this insight:
You can connect with others if you’re willing to get off your own agenda, to think about others, and to try to understand who they are and what they want. If you really want to help people, connecting becomes more natural and less mechanical. It goes from being something that you merely do to becoming part of who you really are.
Healthy communication skills take practice, and today is a good time to start listening, offer encouragement, and leverage the different styles. The level of connection and engagement on your team will increase as you practice these skills.
In addition, great communication on teams throughout your organization will lead to increased productivity. Achieving positive outcomes for your ministry recipients or customers is a natural outflow of healthy communication within your organization.
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