By Dana and Ellen Borowka, MA
Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC
Have you ever had
miscommunication with your employees
co-workers that resulted in costly errors?
It’s been said there is
a significant difference between hearing someone speak to you and
really listening to what they say. Most managers consider themselves to
be good listeners. But is that really the case?
Being a connected manager requires that
you suspend judgment of your subordinates’ actions or
reactions while you try to understand them. Sometimes, you will need to read between
the lines of what they say. Next comes gentle questioning and probing,
to clarify what is going on. The goal is to understand and not to judge.
illustrate, here is the story of Joe (real example, but not his real
name). Joe is a production manager for a furniture manufacturing firm,
who oversees about 50 employees that work in teams of 5-10 in
manufacturing cells. His primary responsibilities are meeting
production quotas, and interacting with the customer service and
shipping departments. The general manager became aware that
these departments were encountering difficulties meeting quota and
shipping schedules due to production problems in Joe’s
Joe has been with the company many years, the manager requested that we
work with Joe to identify why these problems were taking
place. We found that Joe’s communication style was
harsh and vague with his teams. In turn, they focused on his
poor communication rather than the task at hand. They would
take his instructions “as is” and work on the
assignment with limited information instead of asking questions to
clarify the process. The results were reduced production,
increased safety violations and poor workmanship.
situation is not uncommon to most business people. Yet, Joe
seemed to have a hard time accepting the problems that management was
pointing out to him. In order to illustrate Joe’s
growth areas, we had him take an in-depth work style/personality
assessment, which identifies not only areas for an individual to
improve upon, but also strengths and personality traits. We
have found this to be a valuable tool in assisting employees to gain
insight about themselves. When Joe reviewed the profile
results, he discovered the same growth areas that the management team
was focusing on. He then became more open to exploring ways
to resolve the problems.
a Connected Manager
of the first points we worked on with Joe was how to listen effectively
to others. A primary cause for poor communication is poor
listening skills, where the listener fails to take in all the available
information, and instead relies on his or her own assumptions.
found that by using active listening, where one paraphrases what he or
she thinks the other person is saying, that he was able to avoid this
kind of miscommunication with his teams. We encouraged Joe to
avoid interrupting others and to ask more questions to ensure better
understanding. Effective listening ensures that both the
listener and the speaker end up on the same page.
Another cause for ineffective
communication is poor speaking skills where the speaker provides vague
and incomplete or emotionally charged information to the
listener. We suggested that Joe use “I”
statements when speaking to his teams. By using I statements,
Joe was able to take responsibility for his comments while clarifying
his thoughts. An example of an “I”
statement, “I feel under a great deal of pressure when you
give the client a due date without checking with me first, because
there may be some difficulties meeting that
deadline.” “I” statements are
composed of three elements: The “I” helps the
speaker maintain the responsibility for his or her feelings or
observations; the “when” gives a specific example
for the other person; and the “because” provides
the reason for why the speaker is concerned by the situation.
“I” statements help the speaker to avoid being
vague and accusatory with others.
can also interpret poor communication as a lack of respect and
empathy. Joe discovered that he was unintentionally showing
disrespect to his staff through his harsh communication. We
suggested that Joe meet with his staff to discuss any problems and find
some solutions. This created a sense of
common goal – a shared need they all want and can agree upon,
which encouraged teamwork rather than alienation.
general manager and employees were very pleased by the positive results
from Joe’s communication training. Customers are
receiving their orders on time; accidents have decreased; workmanship
has improved so production returns have decreased; and incentive
bonuses were awarded to the plant. Proficient communication is not by
any means the easiest thing to do. It takes practice,
patience and respect, yet the benefits can be immense.
Tips to Better Communication
most managers, this does not come naturally. Here is how to apply this
in your world. These six tips will help you become a better listener,
communicator and manager.
- Use in-depth work
style/personality assessments as communications tools.
Personality assessments give the manager and employees a common language
about how they like to interact. Assessments can help you
train future managers on how to get the best out of the team.
- Practice active listening
-- An active listener is ready and willing to really hear what the
other person has to say. When you actively listen, you pay close
attention to the speaker and don’t just wait until they get
done talking, or worse yet, interrupt them. Paraphrase back to the
person to check in that you fully understand what is being said.
- Enter the listening zone.
When a subordinate approaches you to discuss something, go into
listening mode. Do what it takes to minimize distractions, look the
speaker in the eye, and make a decision in your head to really listen.
If you know their personality type, then think what their style of
- Seek to understand first.
Pay close attention to what the subordinate is really saying, both the
words and the feeling behind them. Watch the speaker's body language.
Instead of interrupting if you have a question or comment, write it
down so you can remember it for later.
- Show empathy.
Empathy, the ability to know and feel what others experience
— is the foundation of being a connected leader. Managers in
industries ranging from health care to high tech are realizing benefits
to their team’s productivity when they show empathy.
- Hold your reactions.
Have you ever seen someone react negatively to what you say without
saying a word? Even if you disagree with the subordinate, do
not react negatively by shaking your head or putting on a big frown.
Instead give positive cues like smiling, maintaining eye contact, and
leaning toward the speaker
all want to be understood. Employee buy-in comes when a manager is able
to listen attentively, understand them as people and to lead
naturally. There’s an old saying, “Coming
together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, working together
is Success!” Effective communication not only saves
companies money, but also increases their bottom line return.
is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC to reproduce any
portion provided in this article. ©
2008 This information contained in this
article is not meant to be a substitute for professional counseling.
Dana Borowka, CEO and Ellen Borowka, COO
of Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC have over 25 years experience in
the area of business and human behavioral consulting. Dana
has a masters degree in Clinical Psychology and Ellen has a masters
degree in Counseling Psychology. They have been helping
organizations both nationally and internationally in raising the hiring
bar in “bringing effective insight” to
organizations through using work style and in-depth personality
assessments. They are nationally renowned speakers and radio
personalities on this topic. They have built a well
recognized organization that provides expert interpretation of in-depth
personality assessments during the hiring process, providing stress
management workshops and in assisting those with communication
challenges. They are authors of the book, "Cracking the Personality Code".
To order the book, please go to www.crackingthepersonalitycode.com.
Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2013
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