In a perfect world, the lines of communication between management and employees are wide open, with both parties able to share their thoughts and concerns freely, honestly, and genuinely, without fear of repercussions. However, in this imperfect world of ours, there are many things that employees can’t or won’t say to their managers, and vice versa. As in every aspect of life, improved communication at work would result in more productive relationships.
The infinite number of situations employees find themselves in gives rise to employees thinking any number of things they will probably never say to their managers. When those thoughts are counterproductive or come from knee-jerk emotional reactions, it’s probably a good idea that employees hold their tongues. But there are some common situations where it would be useful for employees to speak up instead of restraining themselves.
Employees complain among themselves, and rightfully so, about getting mixed messages from their bosses. Of course, bosses are human and fall prey to the same habits as everyone else. One of these habits (and it’s a bad habit) is giving mixed messages: saying one thing and doing another, a person’s words and actions don’t coincide. A manager may say something affirming to a subordinate and never follow it up with actions. For example, a boss may tell an employee that they respect them or trust them or that they are excelling on the job and deserve more responsibility, but never follow up with tasks or duties that reflect that trust. The employee is left wondering what’s really going on and whether the manager’s respect is genuine. But the employee is not going to risk their paycheck by saying, “Hey, what’s up with your empty promises?”
Some employees would like to let their managers know that it is possible to have a “closer” relationship – but not the way the manager may be tackling it. As an effort towards building a relationship, managers may initiate conversations regarding an employee’s personal life, but they often go about it all wrong. When a manager asks surface-level questions or repeats questions they’ve asked before, employees are left wondering if the manager cares a whit, or if the manager has ever listened to them in the past. Asking employees about their family, their interests, and their life outside of work is a good thing – as long as the manager takes the time and makes the effort to remember these conversations. Conversely, a manager may talk a lot about his or her own interests. Revealing oneself is a good stepping-stone on the path to a better relationship – as long as the path goes both ways. If the manager has not taken the time to get to know the employees, such self-revelations are likely to come off more as bragging or self-centeredness than as a desire to build a relationship with the employee. But of course, the employee will never say that.
There are countless more examples, and the solutions all rest on listening, communicating and investing.
Employees don’t share what’s on their minds because they fear the possible consequences. No one wants to be perceived as the employee or team member who rocks the boat. Fear of rejection, retaliation, or punishment is a powerful deterrent.
There is good news, though – management can help create the necessary change. Communication is the key to success, and bosses who communicate openly, honestly and transparently with their employees are more likely to have their employees do so in return. For example, if job responsibilities are changing or a new policy is being implemented, show employees that they are respected by telling them the reason for changes, and encouraging questions and discussion for better understanding. Successful vertical communication doesn’t occur overnight, but with continual practice, managers can develop and encourage open lines of communication, and change the culture for more success and productivity.
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.