The Do's and Don'ts of Manager/Employee Communication

Managers are responsible for encouraging good communication in their organization.

Good communication is the foundation of any successful business. When the communication between manager and employee is positive, everyone is on the same page about objectives, tasks, and expectations. Successful interaction enables departments to run smoothly and get things done.

Good communication, unfortunately, is not always a simple matter. In business, as in every area of life, some people are naturally gifted communicators and others are not. This fact is true of both managers and employees. And even when people are good communicators, personal differences between styles can make communication easier between some people and harder between others.

Everyone in an organization—managers and employees alike—has a responsibility to work on their communication skills. Managers, however, are the ones who have to take responsibility for this area and make sure that the lines of communication stay as efficient as possible. Learning the skills of effective business communication is an important part of advanced study, such as that available through Washington State University’s Online Master of Business Administration. Offering a top-quality online MBA course curriculum that opens the door to many career paths and opportunities, WSU’s Online MBA degree program offers a solid foundation for success.

7 Deadly Sins

Before discussing what managers should do, looking at common communication pitfalls can be helpful. An article on the website Inc. lists the 7 deadly sins of manager/employee communication:

Sin #1—Focusing on Weaknesses. Managers may be tempted to focus on fixing areas where employees are not meeting expectations, particularly during ratings and performance reviews, but at other times as well. This move makes employees feel like they can never do right in their manager’s eyes, and it leads to job disengagement.

To avoid this sin: Talk about strengths, and place employees in positions where they shine naturally. A job where someone continually struggles to overcome weaknesses might not be the right fit.

Sin #2—Disregarding Professional Development. Managers sometimes focus all of their communications with employees on their current roles. Employees may feel that you don’t understand their aspirations and will not work with them to develop a plan of action for meeting those goals.

To avoid this sin: Regularly communicate information about professional development, mentorship, and learning opportunities. This simple strategy can increase employee engagement and reduce turnover.

Sin #3—Being Unapproachable. When employees hesitate to talk to their managers, the result is a mistake-laden workplace with low engagement and high conflict. This situation ultimately becomes a problem for the manager, who must do damage control—which makes busy managers even less available.

To avoid this sin: Respond to employee questions and emails as soon as possible. Schedule regular team meetings and 1-on-1. Encourage employees to drop by when they need to discuss something with you.

Sin #4—Being Uninvolved. Some managers feel that their role is to resolve situations only when employees are no longer able to handle them. But this approach leaves managers out of the loop on the day-to-day issues employees face. Employees begin to feel that managers are unable or unwilling to help them with problems.

To avoid this sin: Encourage regular discussion of and participation in employees’ roles. Managers will be better able to resolve problems when they arise and employees will be more likely to seek the manager’s advice.

Sin #5—Being Too Involved. “Micromanagers” demoralize employees by questioning all of their decisions, excessively scrutinizing all of their work, and demanding detailed summaries of completed tasks.

To avoid this sin: If the root of the problem is job insecurity on the part of the manager, leadership courses can be helpful. If employees really are mistake-prone, allowing them to make those mistakes—and suffering the appropriate consequences—may be necessary.

Sin #6—Exhibiting Pessimism. Studies show that optimistic managers inspire progress and innovation, while pessimistic leaders damage employee morale.

To avoid this sin: When employees bring complaints to their managers, focus on brainstorming potential solutions rather than commiserating. Employees will appreciate the extra attention, and they'll be motivated to take the same approach to problem solving in the future.

Sin #7—Using Passive-Aggressive Communication. Passive-aggressive managers hide feedback in humor, provide conflicting direction, and place blame on employees, leaving them confused, discontented, and disengaged. This type of communication usually comes from managers who lack skill in providing criticism or feedback.

To avoid this sin: Consider emotional intelligence training for yourself and your entire team. When everyone understands how to communicate around feedback, the process will be much smoother.

6 Ways to Improve Communication

Avoiding these pitfalls is not enough to ensure good communication. Managers must also take proactive steps to promote clear and open communication between themselves and their staff. Marketing specialist Corey Moseley of the website Jostle lists 6 ways to improve communication between managers and employees:

  1. Meet Weekly. Weekly meetings can help team members feel comfortable communicating with each other and with their managers. Weekly meetings also allow team members to talk openly about projects they’re working on, challenges they’re facing, or questions they might have. Managers should keep the tone informal and keep the conversation moving organically while making sure everyone has adequate space to speak.
  2. Hold Regular 1-on-1s. Communicating in groups is difficult for some people, so a good manager should create additional avenues of communication for their employees. Regular 1-on-1 meetings offer the perfect opportunity for more direct conversation between managers and employees. Whether these meetings are quick and informal or structured and formal, they are opportunities to connect and collaborate.
  3. Keep Employees in the Loop. Many employees feel disconnected from decisions made by management. Studies show conclusively that employees generally feel uninformed, with only 10 percent aware of their company’s progress in real time and 80 percent wanting to hear more frequently from their managers about how the company is doing. Keeping your employees informed not only improves communication, it’s also a simple way to build trust and cultivate a shared cause or purpose.
  4. Be Open with Your Team. Some employees think of their managers as unapproachable, but managers are people, too. Being in a position of authority doesn’t mean that you have to be intimidating. Managers should feel comfortable having conversations with employees about topics that aren’t specifically work related. The same goes for office-related issues. Be open when members of your team seek your help or have questions—after all, that’s what you’re there for. Open communication is all about trust, and the principle works both ways.
  5. Use Communication Tools. Whether it’s a chat app, an intranet, or something else entirely, taking advantage of the right tool can go a long way toward improving communication between managers and employees. Adding electronic communication options also facilitates communication for employees who may not be comfortable with face-to-face discussions.
  6. Ask for and Give Feedback. Most people aren’t sure how well they’re performing in their role. This can have a tremendous impact on their self-confidence, and subsequently how open and direct they are in their communication. One potential solution to this problem is to regularly ask for (and give) feedback on performance. Positive or negative, honest feedback lets everyone know where they stand and paves the way for open interaction.

Open Door

The website Chron recommends an additional technique for improving communication. According to business writer Lisa McQuerrey, managers should consider implementing an open-door policy for their employees. This term describes a manager-employee relationship in which the employee has an open, standing invitation to approach the manager with questions, concerns, complaints, and comments at any time. “This management approach lets employees know their concerns are valued and that the manager is always available and willing to communicate. This management style can have a positive impact on morale and employee performance,” McQuerrey says.

Whatever communication techniques a manager uses, everything boils down to openness and respect. When your employees feel heard, they feel valued—and that is what good communication is all about.

About WSU’s Online Master of Business Administration Program

Communication skills can be learned and improved with advanced education. Washington State University’s Carson College of Business delivers one of the top-ranked MBA programs in the nation. WSU offers an Online MBA course curriculum designed to equip students with the tactics, knowledge, skills, strategies, and other resources utilized by today’s high-profile business leaders.

WSU’s Online MBA degree program offers several MBA concentrations—marketing, finance, hospitality business management, international business, and general MBA. For more information, visit WSU’s Online MBA website.


Recommended Reading:

Managing Human Capital

3 Ways Company Leaders Can Reduce Churn and Improve Employee Retention

5 Ways Managers Can Build Relationships that Matter with Team Members



Importance of communication – Jostle

Seven deadly sins – Inc.

Six ways to improve communication – Jostle

Open-door policy – Chron