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Toxic Work Culture Series: A Leader Communicates and NOT Divide

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION FORMULA= Listening + Hearing + Understanding (empathy)

I trust everyone had a wonderful weekend. CPR LLC's Toxic Work Culture series continues this week with a focus on effective communication and the use of divide and conquer, a divisive strategy in play today. To cultivate a positive work environment, the leader must effectively communicate its mission, vision, and value, as well as its goals and objectives. In today's culture, communication includes written, verbal and non-verbal communication. As a leader, you must be mindful that what you say can be interpreted as a divide and conquer tactic. So, if divide and conquer is your goal, note that you are promoting a toxic work culture; if it is not your goal, then you must pivot and communicate more effectively. Let's explore further.

Let's start by acknowledging the elephant in the room. Every leader deems themself an effective communicator until they are told they are not. The reality is that everyone is talking, but is anyone listening with their ears and heart? Perfecting the skill of effective communication requires both the ears and heart to propel you to the forefront. Communicating effectively requires person A to speak with person B. Person B as the receptor is required to listen with their ears and heart. Following the steps of head-heart-head response can erase selective communication, which fosters a hostile work environment. Selective communication signals that a higher value is placed over one employee versus the other. Left to fester, this manifests into a form of favoritism. When transmitting a message, the leader must consider their audience to ensure the right message is conveyed accordingly. While a unilateral form of communication is accepted in the business world, the reality is that it is not practical. Consultant Proficiency Resources offers some tips to effectively communicate with your team and clients for success.

  1. Consider your audience. Regardless of the size of your organization, it would help if you considered everyone. You can accomplish this by simply getting to know your employees. That means being more involved by spending more time on the frontline engaging staff than in the board room. As a small business owner, getting over this hump should be easier with a smaller group.

    1. Engaging staff may include an informal session/chat or huddles (note I did not say meeting), sponsor lunch or breakfast, and meet and greet with small groups, including dinners and barbecues. During this time, virtual interaction is perfectly acceptable.

  2. Use simple words to ensure everyone understands what is being conveyed. A leader knows when to bring out their thesaurus, which is not during these informal sessions. Save it for the boardroom.

  3. Be alert and prepared when receiving non-verbal communication. That includes casting down of eyes or rolling of eyes, the folding of arms or the typical I am bored yawn, the constant nodding as opposed to a salient nod, and a forced smile versus a genuine smile. The list goes on and on. If you are not cognizant of the importance of non-verbal communication, attend training.

  4. Be empathetic. We are living in precarious and turbulent times. This means your employees are consumed with weightier matters that are personal to them. Convey that you understand how global events may impact our families and the workplace and be patient.

  5. Monitor the room for understanding. Typically, this can be disclosed via non-verbal communication or the teach-back method adopted in medicine. The question is not, do you understand? Instead, you can ask, "can you tell me what you will relate to your spouse, parent, or child about this session?" With this question, you will kill two birds with one stone. You can identify whether your message was effectively transmitted and assist someone on your team who might be too shy to speak up.

  6. Seek participation. Typically there is one person who is not afraid to speak up. Gauge the situation; if you deem it beneficial, you may direct the first question at that person or identify an alternate person who can express themselves.

  7. Summarize salient points

  8. Ask questions during your informal sessions. Never end with "do you understand?" or "any questions?" You will always get a "yes" or the nodding of heads.

  9. Wait patiently for a response. That means you must dedicate enough time when you have these sessions. If you appear rushed, your employee will try to beat the clock, and time will run out without achieving your goals for that session.

  10. Ask for constructive feedback in the form of an online survey at the end. The information will be perceived as anonymous, and you can generate a response that will lead you to tackle new problems.

There are so many ways to improve effective communication, the key is to recognize everyone can improve and listen with your ear and heart. Communicating your way to a positive work environment is critical. If your organization is perceived as negative and moving towards toxicity, take baby steps to evolve into a positive environment. Remember to remain transparent and communicate. On the other hand, if your environment is positive, you will want to maintain the environment. One way to maintain a positive environment is to implement an open session or huddle if you have not already done so. What matters most is the organization's awareness of cultivating a positive work environment and you as the leader are paving the way.

Below is a bonus Strategic Communication TedTalk video that begins to highlight the effects of effective communication.

Warm Regards,


Managing Partner

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