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Three things you need to know when communicating with your team members.


To communicate well with team members, we need to start with the purpose of communicating, without getting caught up in theories. At a practical workplace level, we communicate to transmit information and ideas and with the goal of arriving at an agreed position or common understanding.

For leaders, the information they communicate must focus a lot on expectations and feedback, which are the bookends of high performance.

There are many things that can disrupt communication between managers and their teams. In this article we will focus on three that have a significant – positive or negative – impact.

Communication – It’s not just about what you say.

Managers know that there is a lot more to communication than what they say, but how many times have you heard yourself say:

  •   But, I told them …. OR
  •   Where did they get that idea?

This isn’t just about body language or the tone you use – they are important but it’s much more than that. You don’t have any choice in whether you communicate – your only choices are over what and how you communicate, and you don’t even have full control over those.

Think of a manager who decides not to communicate some workplace news until they have more information. By ‘not communicating’, they create impressions or ideas in people’s minds. They turn those impressions into ‘information’ and now believe that what they have perceived is factually correct.

What about the manager who has a series of apparently urgent meetings with other managers and behind closed doors? What messages are being communicated to their team, whether they are accurate or not?

As a leader you need to accept that communication is happening all the time – and be responsible for managing it. It is not good enough to decide that people have to be responsible for the conclusions they ‘jump to’ – regardless of whose fault it is, it will impact team morale and performance. ‘Tune in’ to the way your team members are feeling and then address the gaps that are leading to any miscommunication.

Intention and execution is important for effective communication. 

Leaders must be responsible for what they communicate whether it is what they intended or not. Why? Because your people respond – and express that through engagement, motivation, commitment and performance –based on their perceptions.

That may mean that you felt you were providing clear expectations, but they heard you as bossy and controlling. In your head it may have sounded like constructive feedback but for them it landed as criticism and negativity. It may feel like being supportive to you, but they may experience it as being micromanaged and treated like idiots.

This all comes down to intention versus execution. You intended to come across one way but that got lost somewhere in the execution. Let’s be clear, if you have an issue of intention – if you intend to come across as bossy, controlling, critical, negative, and condescending – you have a whole range of problems we wont address here.

So, assuming it is an execution issue, here is the simplest way to fix it. Hear yourself through their ears. What would this sound like if you were them?

To add a degree of complication, that will vary with each individual. Some people appreciate detailed instructions, others resent them. Some people like direct feedback, others find it confronting. The answer is to get to know your people and they communication they respond best to – and then lead people the way they need to be led rather than imposing your default style on everyone.

A good place to start understanding communication differences is to have an explicit discussion with them – and you should share your own communication preferences as well.

They don’t get enough

Gratitude, feedback, clarity, recognition, …

Even if you give plenty.

In thirty years of working with organisations, we have never encountered an organisation where people say they receive enough communication. In most of those organisations, managers feel they provide abundant communication and are surprised by the feedback

So, who is right? Does it matter? If people are asking for more gratitude, feedback, clarity and recognition. They cost you nothing – not even much time – and each of them are directly linked to improving motivation, morale and performance. They are a small investment that will provide an abundant return in results and in making the leader’s job easier. 


Read our last blog: Management and leadership, what is the difference