Teach Employees to Communicate Effectively

Repost from the Diversity Executive magazine, April 13, 2013
By Jennifer Kahn
Read original article.

Diverse employee groups within your organization need to first understand where others are coming from – and then tailor their communications accordingly.

Workplace communication is multi-layered and complex, especially when employees from diverse backgrounds and different generations must collaborate.

As president of Professionalism Matters, a corporate training firm based in Atlanta, Dana Brownlee is attuned to many workplace challenges. She said there’s a generational divide in terms of work style and communication practices. Her training focuses on getting employees away from the daily grind and providing them an opportunity to truly reflect on what’s working and what’s not. Brownlee previously spent years working for IBM Consulting.

Can an employee provide constructive feedback to someone with higher authority in the office?
Of course, but it’s all in how you do it. If my boss is overbearing and his demeanor has been problematic for me during a recent project team meeting, I wouldn’t hesitate to meet with him about it. However, instead of telling him that he needs to tone it down, I’d ask him to give me his thoughts on how the session went and then chime in based on his comments/observations.

Similarly, if I were planning a session and concerned about his demeanor, I’d meet privately before the session and share my concern like this: “Bob, thanks so much for agreeing to participate in our vendor discussion on Friday. I think that your presence really signals to the team that this project is important and that helps boost morale. I’ve been planning the agenda, and I do have one challenge that I was hoping you could help with. I know how much everyone on the team really respects your opinion and sometimes when the VP offers their view, everyone latches onto that view and we don’t really hear his or her honest initial thoughts on the topic. I know how important it is to you to really see what they can come up with, so I’m just struggling a bit with how to handle that. What do you think?”

He may offer to simply come for the first 15 minutes or agree to hold back and not contribute to discussion until others have chimed in, but either way, it’s a great way to surface the issue and identify some real solutions without alienating anyone in the process.

How do organizations smooth generational gaps within their workplace?
Most organizations have at least three generations in the workplace working side by side, and this can pose some unique challenges. I have one client in particular who is struggling with the fact that younger employees tend to prefer text/email, while some of the older staff demand face-to-face or phone conversations about everything. Both groups are quite frustrated. In terms of how we address it, the first step in resolving any problem is acknowledging that there is indeed a problem.

Through work style assessments, employees begin to see that each person has their own style — whether it relates to communications, conflict management or leadership. How they interact is a direct result of that style. This means that when Susan emails me about a conflict instead of coming to talk to me directly, it’s probably not a sign of disrespect, as some would assume, but a style difference.

Jennifer Kahn is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.?