Managers are responsible for how their team is performing. The big question is if a member of your team is not performing up to your standards, why aren’t they? Our gut reaction is to assume that they are not up to doing the work. In some cases this may be correct. However, it turns out that it is far more likely that the reason that a member of your team is not doing well has to do with you. Specifically with how you are communicating with them. If you are willing to change, this might change how well this team member performs.
What’s The Problem?
As a manager, you’re constantly setting expectations for the members of your team using meetings, memos, and emails. Expectations give our team members the information and understanding they need to make the individual decisions that support our organizational goals. Setting expectations isn’t an easy thing to do, and managers struggle with this responsibility because successfully setting expectations relies on creating a mutual understanding. Mutual understanding means that both you and each team member agree on how to interpret or make meaning of your suggestions, information, or instructions.
In order for managers to set clear expectations with their team members, managers have to be direct communicators. I think that we can all agree that direct communication comes with a tricky reputation. All too often it’s commonly associated with forcefulness or lacking empathy. However, direct communication is not about aggressive attributes. Rather, it’s about speaking plainly and avoiding assumptions. Managers need to realize that there are three common communication obstacles that prevent managers from achieving mutual understanding and setting clear expectations.
Removing Communication Obstacles
The first issue that can cause a manager to have communication difficulties is when we are skirting the issue. This can happen when you use ambiguous words when you are talking with someone. The result of this is that there’s no mutual understanding because your team member ends up not knowing the desired outcome or who is accountable for achieving the outcome. You know that you’re about to skirt the issue when you use “we” or “all of us” simply because you’re not comfortable pinpointing who is accountable for making the change. You can prevent this from happening by making sure to use specific names and concrete examples. This will make the obstacle clear and it will clearly identify who is accountable for addressing the obstacle. You will want to pay attention to how directly you address performance. Understand that it’s easier to say we than to explicitly address who. Managers need to understand that accountability asks for what and by who.
It is always possible that you’re reluctant to share the full story. This can happen when you attempt to minimize information that you fear could be perceived unfavorably. In a situation like this, there’s no mutual understanding because your team member won’t have accurate information to guide their follow-up or decision. You’re reluctant to share the full story when you use over-apologetic or hedging language (e.g., perhaps, kind of, we could potentially) to cushion “tough” information. You can prevent this from happening by expressing all relevant information without trying to judge the consequences of being honest. You’ll want to pay attention to how directly you communicate tough calls or make big requests. It turns out that it’s easier to negotiate first with yourself before you’ve even had the conversation with others. Always be honest about what you want to achieve.
Finally, it’s possible that you’re not following up on an unresolved question. This can happen when you assume addressing the question again makes you pesky, burdensome, or a bother. There’s not going to be a mutual understanding because you didn’t receive any new information from the other person that would support an objective conclusion. Understand that you’re not following up on an unresolved question because you believe following up with a clear yes or no question would lead to rejection or frustration from your team member. You have the ability to prevent this from happening by following up and providing a deadline for responding so that you can confidently move on. You will want to pay attention to how persistent you are when you are championing change and establishing stretch goals for team members. It can be easier for people to do what they know than to do something new. You are going to want to inspire your team members to keep pushing through.
What All Of This Means For You
Managers want to get the most out of their team members. There will be times that we discover that we are not getting as much as we need to out of a member of our team. When this happens, we need to take the time to try to determine why this is happening. It can be all too easy to blame the team member for not living up to our expectations. However, there’s another possibility. Perhaps we have not been communicating clearly.
There is always the possibility that we are skirting the issue. We can prevent this from happening by making sure to use specific names and concrete examples. There will be times that we may be reluctant to share the full story. We can prevent this from happening by expressing all relevant information without trying to judge the consequences of being honest. Finally, it’s possible that we’re not following up on an unresolved question. We have the ability to prevent this from happening by following up and providing a deadline for responding so that we can confidently move on.
Let’s face it, every manager has been on the receiving end of confusing visions, instructions, and plans. It’s frustrating and time-wasting because we don’t know what to do next. When managers hold ourselves accountable for being direct communicators, we can speak powerfully and with integrity, because our team will see that we are honest about our desired outcomes and clear about how we use our words.
– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™
Question For You: How can a manager determine if their communication is not clear?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
I’m pretty sure that most managers realize that getting the right people to want to join your team has become more and more difficult over the past few years. It turns out that people seem to have a lot more choices than they used to. With the ability for many people to work from home now, they can get a job just about anywhere. What this means for managers is that we are going to have to up our game. We need to come up with creative ways to get people to want to join our teams.