The psychology of communication: how to communicate better with your staff

April 1, 2015 Uli Aschenbrenner No Comments

Have you ever been in a situation where you thought, “if only I’d known how that staff felt, I could have handled that better”? Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but it’s useless if we don’t learn from it. Understanding how to communicate better with staff can help you avoid these issues in the future.

Understanding your staff

Let’s start with understanding your staff. Research has found that a caring boss is even more important than a pay rise, so it’s worth spending some time looking after your staff.

Remember that each of your staff is different, and pay attention to what works for each person. For instance, just knowing whether someone has more extroverted or introverted tendencies can help you get better results. You can position staff where they’ll perform best (lots of customer contact will be invigorating for extroverts but draining for introverts) and help them manage their energy at work.

For staff who struggle to communicate openly, you can help them to open up if you know this is the case. For others, you might need to share a friendly reminder to let others get a word in! Getting your staff to talk to you can be difficult if it hasn’t been the precedent. Studies have shown that staff often keep quiet when they have concerns, for fear of being labelled negatively. Opening up a discussion and ensuring staff feel heard, and safe to voice their opinions can improve communication among your team. Open communication channels can, in turn, improve staff job satisfaction.

Understanding the differences among your staff is also useful in building an effective team. Disagreements among staff can often come from a clash of personalities that’s easy to avoid if you pay attention to how different people get along. When buddying up new staff with a trainer or positioning staff to work closely together, knowing who will clash and who’s likely to work well together can help you avoid future issues.

To get to know your staff in a fun way, try asking questions that provide insight into who they are, like what book they would recommend to everyone they meet, or which movie they watch every time it’s on TV. And if you’re curious about your own personality type, you can take this online test to see how you score.

Giving feedback

Sharing performance feedback is always a confronting process but we all know it’s imperative for staff to improve and to understand what they’re doing right. Since most of us don’t like sharing negative feedback with staff, the good news is that positive encouragement actually works better at improving performance. This is partly because encouragement increases positive emotions, which in turn improve performance:

  • When we’re feeling upbeat and happy, we’re more likely to have an inclusive focus than a self-centered outlook, and to perform better on cognitively demanding tasks.
  • The tone you use when delivering feedback can make a big difference to how the feedback is received, too:

When negative feedback was delivered with a warm tone, the staff usually rated the interaction positively. On the other hand, good news, such as achieving a goal, delivered with a negative tone would leave staff feeling bad.

If an experience is negative, your staff is more likely to remember it and to spread that negativity among the team. So when you do need to share some constructive criticism, keep this in mind. Using a warm, friendly tone could make the harsh feedback go down a lot better.

Building trust

A team of staff who trust each other will be more open in their communication and more productive. Building trust takes time and effort, but if your team becomes more cohesive and efficient as a result, it’s probably an effort worth making.

Being honest with your staff can increase trust and build strong connections. If you have to make a tough decision, share what’s going on with your staff.”let them in on the process and the reasons behind the decision to build up trust.

When there’s a big change coming, it’s even more important to share as much information as you can. Research has found that staff who are kept in the loop can more easily adjust to a big change like a company merger, than those who don’t receive much information about the change. As much as you can, share your knowledge with staff and be sure to listen to their opinions to build a stronger relationship (good listeners are more liked and the talker will get a brain boost of feel-good chemicals).

Lastly, whenever you can, give your staff choices. A study on how contracts affect trust found that binding contracts prevent trust from forming. Nobody likes to feel like they have no options. Try to offer choices so your staff can feel independent and empowered, and you’ll build up more respect and trust over time.


Photo credit: neil conway / Foter / CC BY This post was written by Belle Beth Cooper

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