Know Your Audience
The most important aspect of any effective communication is knowing your audience. This audience will vary, so being flexible in your communication styles is a great skill for any leader to have. In the course of a single day as the leader of a business or department, you might speak to:
· Children taking a tour of your facility
How you speak to them, and what you choose to say or not say to them, is key to successful communication. For example, you wouldn’t go over your Q4 sales results with the children. And you wouldn’t give departmental reviews to your customers – only to your staff.
The Right Timing
Timing is also key. For example, no business leader looks forward to giving out bad news, but sometimes the more you avoid it, the worse things can become. If there is a downturn and you have to start laying off people, this needs to be conveyed sooner rather than later.
The Right Style
Using the example of having to give bad news, you also have to choose your moment and communication style. Should you say nothing to anyone other than those getting the pink slip? Email everyone? Or should you send out an email to make a date for a very important meeting?
Once everyone is at the meeting, how should you announce the news? Do you just blurt out that there will be layoffs and leave it at that? Or will you explain the reasons behind the decision, what the next steps will be, and what you think will happen going forward?
Listening is just as important a leadership skill as speaking. Will you give staff a chance to ask about the redundancies and the situation as a whole? Or leave it to your managers?
Once the meeting is over, you will then have a number of follow-up steps and options. Will you speak to each person getting the pink slip, or let your hiring manager do it? Or will these workers just be given notice and no-one will say a word of regret or appreciation for all their past efforts?
Sometimes communication, for good or ill, comes from not saying anything at all. A worker with a pink slip who has not been given clear reasons or thanked is likely to feel a lot more disgruntled than one who is treated like a human being.
What You Say and Don’t Say Does Count
On the other hand, going into too much detail might open up an entire legal minefield if the worker believes the lay-off is because you “don’t like them” or some form of discrimination is going on. Accusations of racism, sexism, age-ism and other forms of discrimination can all damage your company and even leave it open to serious financial repercussions.
Therefore, it is very important to be clear about the way all workers are spoken to, and this will come from you as the leader, to filter down to managers and staff. Any forms of off-color jokes, bullying or aggressive tendencies should be discouraged at all times, and in all forms – including email and social media accounts, as well as face-to-face dealings between colleagues. Even “harmless teasing” can be hurtful and seem bullying to some individuals.