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If you’re getting the sense that your employees secretly hate you and you’re wondering why, it could be your communication style.
According to a recent poll of about 1,000 US workers by Harris and Interact, a communications consultancy, 91% say communication issues can hurt their relationship with their boss.
The employees surveyed voted on the top nine communication issues that bug them about their managers. We spoke with Lou Solomon, CEO of Interact, about why these behaviors are so irksome and how managers can tweak their leadership style to be more effective.
Here’s the list of troublesome leadership behaviors, in reverse order.
- Sean Gallup/Getty
9. Not asking about employees’ lives outside of work
Twenty-three percent of employees surveyed said this was a problem for them.
To illustrate how problematic this issue can be, Solomon referred to one of her clients, whose boss suggested he attend a certain professional conference. What the boss didn’t realize was that his employee was in fact one of the conference organizers. That experience is an example of leaders who only make half-hearted attempts to connect with their employees, Solomon said.
Of course, managers don’t have to know absolutely everything about their employees’ lives outside of work – but key points like the birth of children, the loss of loved ones, and certainly professional roles like being a conference organizer are important to note.
Solomon said employees might think about the situation this way: “The fact that you [the boss] only care about my contribution at work and are oblivious to the other parts of my life – that stands out to me as a workplace that I don’t want to be a part of.”
8. Refusing to talk to people on the phone or in person.
Thirty-four percent of employees surveyed said this was a problem for them.
With the advent of digital technologies from email to Slack, it’s becoming increasingly possible to avoid in-person interaction entirely.
Yet Solomon strongly advised against this practice. “Face-to-face communication is still the most persuasive, influential medium that there is,” she said.
Leaders can make themselves visible by periodically showing up at meetings or on phone calls – or even by making the rounds at company-wide social functions. That way, they’ll appear more approachable and trustworthy.
“You can communicate electronically to exchange information and sustain a dialogue,” Solomon said, “but you cannot build trust electronically.”
7. Not knowing employees’ names
Thirty-six percent of employees surveyed said this was a problem for them.
Employees today “want a meaningful exchange with the people who are leading the company,” Solomon said. “And when they are not greeted as an individual, then it stands out as missing.”
Solomon cited instances she’s heard about, in which a CEO rides the elevator with an employee and greets him by name. “The impact of that is extraordinary,” she said.
The bottom line is that leaders need to stop pleading, “I’m not good with names,” and make it a priority to know them. “As a leader,” Solomon said, “the standard is higher.”
6. Not offering constructive criticism
Thirty-nine percent of employees surveyed said this was a problem for them.
“Great leaders let people know how they’re doing,” Solomon said, “and give them ways to constantly do better and to get themselves in position to reach their goals.”
Yet Solomon said constructive feedback is often the “missing piece” in today’s leadership, for two key reasons. One, many leaders feel they’re too busy to slow down and invest their time and energy in giving an impromptu performance review.
And two, some leaders fear offending employees or hurting their feelings if they give feedback after a negative incident.
The key to delivering helpful criticism, Solomon said, is to assess the employee’s performance without emotions like anger or frustration.
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5. Taking credit for others’ ideas
Forty-seven percent of employees surveyed said this was a problem for them.
Few leaders actually assert that they came up with an idea when in fact one of their employees submitted it.
Instead, Solomon said, what often happens is that, in the rush to get things done, managers neglect to give credit where it’s due.
But to employees, it can feel as though someone has just stolen credit for their contributions – and that experience can be extremely demotivating.
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4. Refusing to talk to subordinates
Fifty-one percent of employees surveyed said this was a problem for them.
Managers who won’t associate with their reports are communicating a lack of concern for them – even if, again, it’s just a result of being distracted.
- Flickr / Alan Levine
3. Not having time to meet with employees
Fifty-two percent of employees surveyed said this was a problem for them.
The reason managers might not have time to meet with their employees isn’t necessarily that they don’t care about their subordinates. Instead, it’s usually a function of distraction and having multiple responsibilities to juggle.
Still, “if you don’t have time to be easygoing and open and accessible to employees, you could be a liability” in your organization, Solomon said.
That’s because people trust and engage with leaders they genuinely like – and it’s hard to like a manager who clearly doesn’t make her relationship with you a priority.
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2. Not giving clear directions
Fifty-seven percent of employees said this was a problem for them.
“This is such a rift that comes up more than we’d like to imagine between leaders and folks who report to them,” Solomon said. The leaders “weren’t specific on exactly what constituted a success or what the deliverable looks like in their mind.”
What typically ends up happening is that the leader gets frustrated with the employee for not producing the desired result, when in fact, “it was really the leader’s responsibility to make crystal clear exactly what they’re looking for.”
Solomon said managers should keep in mind that, while it might be easier to provide a few key points about a project and leave employees alone, it will ultimately be much more effective to outline the specific directions and exactly what they’re looking for. That way, employees won’t have to redo their work and there will be less aggravation all around.
1. Not recognizing employee achievements
Sixty-three percent of employees surveyed said this was a problem for them.
According to Solomon, “the human side of business is what drives the bottom line as much as the numbers.” In other words, if employees feel unappreciated, they won’t be motivated to produce their best work and the organization will suffer as a result.
The key to giving motivational feedback, Solomon said, is to make it specific and instantaneous.
“If you tell me that you especially liked the way I was able to get collaboration from another department on a particular project I was in charge of, then I sense that you really understand my giftedness and what I bring to the table.
“However, if you just tell me that, ‘Hey, you did a good job on that project,’ then it’s less satisfying to me. Even though you said something, it was general. Anybody could say that.”