Communicating with Employees - Can we talk?

Put more consistency and accuracy into your communication with employees.

OK, and now a little insight into the most difficult thing we do and the oldest problem for construction leaders?communication!" How can something so old, like communication, continue to take its toll on so many of us in leadership?

"Can we talk?"

Sooner, rather than later, you'll give instruction to employees on a particular task ONLY to have them begin by doing the opposite of what you instructed. You'll say, "Didn't I tell you to do this?" and they'll respond, "Yes!" And then you'll ask, "Then why didn't you do it this way?" Which will have them responding, "We thought you meant this!"

Before you begin to question your own sanity, here are eight thoughts that might put more consistency and accuracy into your communication.

Rule #1: Don't assume understanding. This sounds easy but in the busy schedule of our day it is just too easy to rip off a list of duties or directions, assuming that those listening are just as focused as you, only to find the opposite later in the day.

Rule #2: Check out your listener's current "MFL." Your listener's "MFL" stands for current "mood for listening." Really! I have found that some guys (and gals) are just not in the mood for listening. Sometimes this mood is emotionally related and sometimes it's the time-of-day related. Now, I'm not suggesting we have to cater to every whim of our workers but if we don't cater just a little we might just continue our communication disconnection. Some listeners are sharp as a tack early in the morning. Some are more receptive just prior to beginning a new project or task. Make some mental notes as to when is the best time for them to receive and retain what was said.

Rule #3: Confirm your verbal message in writing. Come on now; let's quit avoiding the inevitable. If you have been burned before by poor listening employees then write down the main bullet points, talk from those points with your listener, and then give them a copy of the points for future reference. They will use it?if they don't lose it first!

Rule #4: Prepare your listener.The last thing you should do when needing to speak to an employee is to begin talking without providing them any preparation or warning. Yes, that even means when they have screwed something up royally that you at least give them about five to ten seconds to realize that you want to address the situation. The longer you need to speak to someone the more advance warning you should provide them. Catching others by surprise doesn't build good listening skills and actually positions you as someone who just works from a crisis-minded format.

Rule #5: Mentally rehearse & keep notes. Jot down a few notes about the major "deliverables" that you need for workers to hear and retain. Then, rehearse your intended message. I even find myself correcting my language at times after I hear myself talking (And that's pretty scary!). Remember, just because you're thinking about what you're going to say doesn't always translate into the message you were hoping for at the moment of the verbal delivery.

Rule #6: Tie your message to their purpose for working. Nothing sends a more devastating message to your workers than speaking to them without making them feel important and vital to the project. Tie your words directly to their purpose for completing quality work.

Rule #7: Review, summarize, and confirm. Whenever communicating with your workers always spend just a few more seconds reviewing with them the content and purpose of the conversation. Summarize for them, or have them summarize for you, the content of the message delivered. Confirm by having them apply your instructions to their job.

Rule #8: Ask your listener if they have a question. Giving your workers time to ask a question, at the same time that you are communicating with them, is a great time for them to put their questions to you. Better we get a few more cobwebs cleared up than risk sending them on their way only to have them calling you later with a question that they could easily have had answered earlier.

Hey, rules are made to be broken, right? But consider these eight rules as boundaries or conditions to communicating more clearly and completely. Do your follow-up with workers after you've spoken to them to insure that they "got it" the first time. Note those who don't get things quickly, or are as fast at getting needed messages, and adjust your approach to communicate in a way that addresses their needs.