Managers: 6 tips for being a good communicator

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(MoneyWatch) Do you give your employees meaningful feedback? 

Of course, that all depends on what is meant by meaningful feedback. On Monday, I wrote about an employee who was asked to resign, but not informed as to reason for the proposed termination. I got comments and emails from people who had "been there, done that": sudden terminations, bosses turning from friend to foe overnight, people fired for ridiculous or trumped up reasons. 

All of these problems boil down to a communication problem between boss and employee. As a general rule, people are nice. We don't enjoy hurting other people's feelings, and we want to give people another chance. But then resentment and anger build, and we end up rashly yelling, punishing, or firing.

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Don't be that person. To that end, here are five tips to help you improve your communication as a manager:

1. Remember that negative feedback is a good thing. No one likes hearing how they screwed up. But if you don't tell your employees what they are doing wrong, they can't fix it. You don't need to be mean, and you should give positive feedback as well, but you must tell employees where they need to improve.

2. Subtlety is not an effective tool. A lot of people don't get subtle hints. Demonstrating how you'd like it done without saying specifically, "I'd like it done this way!" leaves a lot of people thinking, "Jane does it this way and I do it that way," and not, "I'd better do it how Jane does it."

3. Set concrete goals. When your employees know what you think is important, the communication problem is largely solved. It also makes for less awkward conversations when there are failures. 

4. Listen to your employees' complaints. Yes, some people are just whiners. But how do you expect them to listen to you when you won't listen to them? Yes, I know, you're the boss, so of course they should listen. But in real life, respect has to be earned. If your employees are saying they don't understand why things need to be done in a specific fashion, it may well be that they have an idea for a better process. 

5. Document, document, document. Theoretically, communication is a separate thing than documenting what happens in the workplace, but in an employer-employee relationship this documentation is critical. People often hear what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. (And people often present a diminished or sanitized version of what the problem is, and then persuade themselves that they had the frank conversation required to fix the problem.) Not only should you make notes on what you said and when, but if you've had a conversation with an employee, follow up with an email to the person listing the key points that were discussed, as follows:

John, 

Thanks so much for meeting with me today. I just wanted to write down what we agreed on today so that we're all on the same page. 

1. The Jones account is the highest priority. If you feel like something else is more urgent, please double-check with me.

2. Stephanie is responsible for the Smith account. Do not contact Mrs. Smith, and if you receive any emails from her, please forward them to Stephanie. 

Thanks, Jane

This way, John can't claim you never told him to forward Smith emails to Stephanie. And if in the heat of the moment you did forget, it's documented now.

6. Don't do important communication via text message. I love texting as much as the next person, but it's not a good tool for dealing with employee problems. Face to face, phone, and even email are better tools for important information. 

If you include these simple techniques in your daily interactions with your employees, no one will be taken by surprise, you won't experience as much frustration, and if you do need to fire someone, it won't be without fair warning.

Have a workplace dilemma? Send your questions to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.

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