The deadline is quickly approaching and you want to get your hands on the report to ensure that all the numbers and data are in line, the analysis is on target, and that all the t’s are crossed and the i’s are dotted.  You are stressed in your job to the max.  You stop by your employee’s desk expecting to find her feverishly working on the last-minute details and edits, but instead notice that she is checking her Facebook newsfeed.  Fighting panic, you calmly ask her about the project.  Her response is your worst nightmare.  “You didn’t set a timeline on that, and I didn’t realize you meant you needed it now…”

Whoa.  Did that just happen?  After you manage this crisis situation, it’s time to do a little self-reflection on where the miscommunication happened.  Clearly YOU knew the urgency for this report, but that information was not communicated to your staff as effectively as you presumed it was.  The problem is that you have a work deadline to meet.  What can we learn from this situation?  And, how can you as a leader take steps to improve your verbal communication to prevent disastrous breakdowns before they even happen?

5 Ways To Improve Your Verbal Communication

  1. Schedule Communication. Communication happens in the break room, at the copy machine, or even in the bathroom.  Formal, work-related communication should not happen in these settings.  If you have a critical project or work-related topic to discuss with your staff, schedule a meeting.
  2. Write it out first. So many times, you think you said it, but you actually just thought it – or maybe you meant to say it.  Or, worse yet, you DID say it, but it was lost in a long conversation and its importance was lost on your staff. For every meeting, write an agenda that includes the meeting’s purpose. Include the topic, who is discussing it, and what the outcome is.  This documentation will keep you all on task.
  3. Blaze a trail. Verbal communication can be easy to misunderstand, and if your employee is dealing with a difficult home situation, he or she might not be completely tuned into your situation.  Even if, in your mind, your conversation should be a priority, imagine if your employee is dealing with a situation where his parents are entering an assisted living facility, a child has a serious medical situation, or a financial pitfall has put him into foreclosure. These are serious situations that can make paying attention – even to your boss – difficult.  The best solution to any verbal communication issue is a follow up email which serves as a communication trail. Use this email to paraphrase the conversation and restate deadlines and deliverables, to ensure that both of you are working from the same play book.
  4. Require status updates. Have your staff report in on status updates on an ongoing basis.  There should be no surprises and you should know in an instant where your staff is on any given assignment.  Set the standard to receive regular reporting and require it.  It will help your staff better balance their workload and increase their accountability.
  5. Paraphrase it. After any verbal communication, ask that the person paraphrase their assignment back to you, to make sure they understand fully the task at hand.  This will help potential questions or issues surface before you get back to your desk, and can increase both project clarity and performance.

Increasing the effectiveness of your verbal communication with your team takes a concerted effort.  As a leader, it is your job to drive conversations to be effective and ensure that your team has the information and resources they need to be successful in their job. By using these five simple methods to increase your verbal communication and soft skills, your team can increase its productivity and decrease the unnecessary stress and panic born from a dreaded communication breakdown.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, is an author, speaker, Human Resources professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the president and CEO of Xceptional HR, and a leader in the HR community with more than 12 years of industry experience. The author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, Jessica was named by HR Examiner as the second most influential recruiter on the Internet and the seventh most powerful woman on Twitter. She is a columnist for both SmartBrief and The Huffington Post, in addition to Blogging4Jobs and Human Resources One on One. Jessica has been interviewed for professional articles in CIO Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, SHRM’s HR Magazine, and on CBS. Jessica earned a Senior Professional in Human Resources designation in 2008, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Business from Kansas State University. Originally from a small town in Kansas, Jessica currently lives near Oklahoma City with her husband, Greg and daughter, Ryleigh.

2 Comments

  • Avatar Andrea says:

    So many times I’ve found myself explaining the same stuff over and over in order to make myself understood. I’ve got so tired of it that I started writing instructions for each employee. To my greatest surprise even I couldn’t make sense out of my writings after a day or two. That really prompted me to improve my verbal communication skills. The result of my advancement made lives of my employees much easier.

  • Avatar Matt says:

    Good communication skills are vital for all the positions but especially for managing ones. You have either to be a good speaker or do all the job yourself.

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