Improve Jobsite Communication with Employees - Can We Talk?

Employee relations, construction communication and tips on workplace communication.

"OK, and now a little insight into the most difficult thing we do and the oldest problem for construction leaders ? communication!"

I've used some variation of this statement with many a construction leader over the past 20 years. How can something so old, like communication, continue to take its toll on so many of us in leadership?

Sooner or later you will give instructions to an employee on a particular task or project only to have that employee begin his or her efforts doing exactly the opposite of what you instructed. You'll look at your employee and say, "Hey, didn't I tell you to do this?" and the employee will respond, "Yes!" And then you'll ask, "Then why didn't you do it that way?" To which the employee will respond, "I thought you meant this!"

Before you lose it completely and begin to question your own sanity, let me share with you eight rules that might put more consistency and accuracy into your communication with others.

#1 Don't assume.
I know this sounds easy but in the busy schedule of our days it is too easy to rip off a list of duties or directions and assume those listening are just as focused as you, only to find the opposite later. You might remember the old saying, "Don't assume as it will make an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me'."

#2 Check your listener's current 'MFL'?????
Your listener's "MFL" is his or her "mood for listening." Really! I have found some people are just not in the mood for listening. Sometimes this mood is emotionally related and sometimes it's related to the time of day. Now, this doesn't suggest we have to cater to every little whim of our workers, but if we don't cater a little we may be contributing to our communication disconnect.

Some listeners are sharp as a tack early in the morning. Some are more "sober" just prior to beginning a new project or task. If you want your listener's attention, you should make some mental notes as to the best time for them to receive and retain what you say.

#3 Confirm your verbal message in writing.
If you have been burned by employees who are poor listeners 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!

#4 Prepare your listener.
The very last thing you should do when needing to speak to an employee is to begin talking about your subject without providing them preparation or warning. Yes, that even means when they have royally screwed up something. You should give them five to 10 seconds to realize 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.

#5 Mentally rehearse & keep notes.
Again, if the need to speak to an employee is approaching I would suggest you jot down a few notes to yourself about the major "deliverables" you need them to hear and retain. Then, rehearse your intended message. I find myself correcting my language after I hear myself talking. Remember, just because you're thinking about what you're going to say doesn't always translate into the exact message you were hoping for at the moment of the verbal delivery.

#6 Tie your message to their purpose for working.
Nothing sends a more devastating message to your workers than just speaking to them without making them feel important and vital to the project. Tie your words directly to their purpose for completing quality work. Let them know what you are telling them is critical to remember as it will make their jobs better or easier.

#7 Review, summarize and confirm.
Whenever communicating to your workers, always spend a few seconds reviewing with them the content and purpose of the conversation. Summarize for them, or have them summarize for you, the message delivered. Confirm with your listener what you said by having him or her explain how your instructions will make his or her job easier or more effective.

#8 Ask your listener if he or she has a question.
This too is just too easy to do consistently. There is never a bad time for a worker to ask a question. Giving your workers time to ask questions when you are communicating with them is a great opportunity for you to get a few more cobwebs cleared up than risk sending them on their way only to have them calling you later with a question you could easily have had answered earlier.

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

Good luck in your next communication opportunity. You'll only have maybe a hundred or more to practice with after you've read this article!