Top 5 Communication Techniques Every Aspiring Manager Should Learn

Big Think Edge | August 31, 2017

Getting promoted to manager is a huge change for many employees—regardless of the industry they work in. All of a sudden, promoted managers have new roles and responsibilities to fill; things won’t be the same as they were before. However, these people will also have new opportunities to further their careers and the careers of those around them.

Yet, all too often, new managers flounder in their new job role. According to statistics cited by Inc.com and others, “the manager failure rate [is] around 50 percent during the first year.” This is an alarming number, because it basically means that your future success as a manager is more or less a coin flip.

Why do so many new managers fail? One reason is their communication skills. Many new managers don’t possess or use the right communication techniques to guide their teams to success—as simply pointed out in a U.S. News article, “they communicate poorly.”

To avoid this leading cause of failure, here are some communication techniques that every aspiring manager should learn before they get that big promotion:

1) Setting Clear Goals in Discussions with Employees

As noted by certified efficiency coach Laura Rose in the previously-mentioned U.S. News article, “managers need to clearly articulate their high-level vision and goals. Managers need to outline their expectations and quality/success criteria.” In other words, if you want to be a manager, you have to be able to tell others what your goals are, what you expect them to do, and how you need them to do it to be successful.

If you’re too vague when communicating with employees, they won’t know what to do or the right way to do it. This leads to confusion, delays, and a loss of trust and respect that might make it harder to convince workers to follow you in the future.

Your ability to clearly communicate the objectives for a project, as well as the steps needed to get there, is a major communication skill to hone as soon as possible. Being able to say what needs doing, and by whom, sets up clear expectations that employees can actually follow. This can help teams, and their managers, succeed.

2) Being Proactive in Communicating with Employees Rather than Just Being “Approachable”

There is a story about Pixar’s President, Ed Catmull, from a Forbes article in which he talks about how his producers “felt that they’d been marginalized and disrespected throughout the entire production process” following the enormous success of the film Toy Story.

The surprise here is that Catmull “always prided himself on being an ‘open door’ manager, ready and willing to hear out employee complaints and take action to rectify whatever situation came up.” However, the “open door” policy didn’t do anything to make employees feel more valued or respected.

Even with an “open” door, there are numerous barriers to overcome before talking to a boss. As pointed out in the Forbes article, “you have to cross through the invisible barrier—not to mention an assistant or two—that separates him from the outside world, interrupt whatever they’re doing and then tell them something unpleasant. Nobody wants to do that.”

These barriers keep employees from approaching managers, whether it’s because they fear repercussions for distracting a manager or because they think that the door isn’t really as open as the manager says.

Rather than passively waiting for a sufficiently brave (or irritated) employee to finally risk being the bearer of bad news, managers need to go out and actively look for employee feedback. Just being able to initiate that conversation with employees is a critical communication technique that many first-time managers—and even some experienced ones—lack.

Taking the initiative shows an active interest in the needs of employees. This can help drive engagement with your leadership. It’ll also help you find out if there are major problems that need immediate fixes.

3) Active Listening

While you’re talking to employees and trying to get some insight into any potential problems, you’ll need to be able to use active listening skills—like asking questions when you need to have employees clarify something you don’t understand.

Actually, this is a skill that’s important for everyone in the workplace to develop—not just aspiring managers. Asking a question isn’t something that you should be embarrassed about. You aren’t revealing your ignorance—you’re eliminating gaps in your understanding of a work-related topic.

Aside from asking questions, it’s important to work on your ability to read nonverbal communication cues and body language, and how team members emphasize words.

4) Writing Memos and Emails

One of the most underestimated communication techniques that managers need to hone is the ability to write memos and emails to employees. There are many situations in which managers simply cannot have face-to-face communications with employees. This is when being able to effectively and clearly communicate with workers via memo or email is crucial.

Working on writing skills to be brief, but to also get across all the vital information, can help prepare you to be a more effective communicator. This helps when you need to engage with remote workers and workers who have schedules that make direct interaction difficult.

While memos and emails aren’t always the optimal means of communicating with employees, being able to write them effectively can be vital for keeping the whole team on the same page.

5) Negotiating Skills

Being a manager may mean that you’re now more dependent on others than you ever have been before—and they might not automatically follow, even out of respect for your newfound authority. As the saying goes, “respect is earned, not given.”

Think about it this way: have you ever had a boss who made unreasonable demands or obviously tried to abuse their newfound “authority?” If so, did you respect that boss and do everything they said? For most, the answer to this question is probably “no.”

Negotiating skills are a critical part of communicating with employees as you try to figure out the best possible solutions for yourself, your workers, your company, and your customers. Being able to work out a compromise can help drive employee engagement with work. This is because it shows that you are taking the needs of your employees into account—helping you earn respect.

These are a few of the communication techniques that any prospective manager should practice before taking on new job responsibilities. By working on these skills, you can put yourself in a better position to succeed when you become a manager.

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