5 Common Communication Errors Leaders Make, and How to Fix Them

All human interaction depends on communication. After thousands of years of practice, you’d think we’d be better at it. Unfortunately for more than 90% of managers and executives, simple communication errors can deeply impact employees’ opinions of their effectiveness and overall fitness to lead. Ultimately, it might be a series of communication missteps that drive your best employees out the door.

Consider these common communication errors employees see leaders make, and fix them before they become real problems for your organization.

They don’t provide enough useful feedback.

As a leader, your insight and experience are invaluable to your employees. If you neglect to offer feedback on a project, or withhold insight on how you may have faced a similar challenge in the past, you’re missing an opportunity to share critical knowledge and help your employees develop and grow. Every leader should be paying attention to their team’s work, and be able to offer constructive insights to help employees hone their skills.

How to fix it: “When I sense an employee’s having a problem, I think about what I’ve gone through and share with him how I did or didn’t overcome the situation,” writes John Hall, Cofounder and CEO of Influence & Co. in his essay for Forbes. Pay attention to an employee’s progress, and instead of telling them what to do next, tell them what you did in a similar situation, and why it worked (or didn’t).

They don’t acknowledge employee achievements or milestones.

“A basic ‘atta-boy’ or ‘atta-girl’ doesn’t satisfy people who put their heart and soul into their work,” writes Lou Solomon in his essay The Top Complaints from Employees About Their Leaders for the Harvard Business Review. Too many managers offer vague feedback and generalized statements, rather than calling out specific progress or achievements. Giving specific, individualized feedback is far more impactful and motivating for employees.

How to fix it: Instead of saying “Great work on this project, I really appreciate your help,” include specific comments based on the work your employees did. Something like “I appreciate you taking time last night to address that urgent customer issue, your response was thoughtful and you provided a reasonable solution,” works much better. Don’t forget to acknowledge specific progress when congratulating employees on work anniversaries and career milestones as well.

They don’t ask for employees’ opinions.

There’s nothing worse than an executive or manager who already has all the answers. Employees want to be able to give feedback and know that their opinions will be taken into consideration. After all, if they’re responsible for executing on departmental objectives, they should at least have a say in how the work gets done.

How to fix it: Create a culture that values feedback by asking the right questions, and taking action on the answers employees provide. Not sure where to start? Our Creating a Culture of Feedback ebook can give you 25 questions to ask your team right away to get the conversation rolling.

They don’t know their employees by name.

Learning someone’s name is a minimum requirement for leaders. How can someone feel valued if their senior leadership can’t even remember one key piece of information about them? Calling someone by their name makes them feel valued as an individual, and less like an employee number and a job function.

How to fix it: With modern technology at your fingertips, there is no excuse not to remember your employees’ names. Use a digital directory to match faces with names, or look someone up by title or department to jog your memory.

“I’m lousy with names, and Structural helps me to place a face with a name and a location until my poor memory picks up the slack.”

Steve Humke, Chief Managing Partner at IceMiller LLP

They don’t know anything about who their employees are outside of work.

Showing interest in your employees’ lives outside work helps build trust and rapport. “It’s completely possible to show you care about your employee’s personal life without being creepy...  The trick is to let your team know that you don’t just see them as worker bees,” writes Hall. When leaders fail to see their employees as real people with complex interests, they miss out on the unique perspective and insights that could help them motivate, engage, and retain employees.

How to fix it: Encourage employees to share information like their hobbies, personality types, children and partners’ names, favorite music, TV shows, or podcasts, and other details in a central, searchable location. This not only helps you find similarities and strike up more meaningful conversations with your employees, it also helps them get to know each other better, and work more cohesively as a team.

Effective leaders know that healthy communication requires the energy of connection — with inclusion, recognition, clear directions, meaningful interaction and feedback as the nerve center of the company,” writes Solomon. Modern leaders are fortunate in that they can lean heavily on technology to bridge the gaps in knowledge and personal insights that can drastically improve employee communication, and in turn, performance. What will your team be able to accomplish when communication issues are a thing of the past?

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