4 min read

"Can You Hear Me Now?": What You're Missing Without Two-Way Communication

Have you recently communicated an updated strategy or new goals to your team? Often, we assume that once we have shared information people understand the direction we are setting. Without checking, it is hard to know if people are clear on the specifics of a strategy or goals. Also, without conversation and confirmation, your staff may be lacking in something they need to achieve your declared goals.

As a leader, you may have risen to your position because of your ability to cast vision and set a strategic direction. These are marks of good leadership. Over the long term, an effective leader understands that they also need to listen well, receive input, and process feedback so that ownership of strategy is spread through all levels of an organization.

What do you need to focus on to engage in two-way communication that increases the ownership of strategy? How do you show your team that you value their input and ideas? Here are some key factors to consider:

  • Set aside time for listening.
  • Identify the input you need to have a thorough understanding of a decision’s impact on others.
  • Seek to confirm there has been clarity in communication.
  • Understand how trust affects responses to new information.

Set Aside Time for Listening

When leaders are setting strategies, developing new goals, or rolling out organizational changes, it can feel like getting feedback from employees will slow down decision-making. Pushing ahead and not sharing information or providing a feedback loop can seem efficient. But inevitably, there will be a time cost later in the process, as employees begin to ask “why” questions. More time may be needed as frontline employees see the operational impact of decisions and share practical concerns related to a decision. If employees don’t understand the “why” of a decision, their own engagement with the vision of the organization may suffer while they are implementing changes that they don’t understand or agree with. This can result in the negative energy of disengaged employees.

So a leader who saves time at the outset will often spend more time as they backtrack to get employees up to speed or deal with dissension about the purpose of a decision. Figuring out operational issues because of a change can take more time as late input from frontline employees is incorporated into new processes.

While including employees in decisions that affect their work is time-consuming, an effective leader will see this time as an investment in the process and essential for moving the whole team toward goals. Time invested in listening, gathering input, and adjusting based on reasonable suggestions will pay off in employees who are engaged with the process and share ownership in organizational outcomes.

What Input Do You Need?

Frontline employees and supervisors have a keen understanding of the specific processes they are involved with on a regular basis. So, when leaders are contemplating new goals or process changes, the best source of information is input from those who are closest to these processes.

For example, the person who processes sales leads understands how all the initial contact information is used. So, if leaders want to make changes in the process or information gathered, a check-in with the person who is closest to this process will yield useful input. Seeking input isn’t just a formality to garner support but signals trust on the part of leadership to seek deeper understanding.

Listening to input and understanding processes doesn’t mean that changes or decisions will be painless. But it does increase the likelihood that people will feel invested in the new direction and support the changes. And it also can minimize mistakes, as leaders can avoid unintended consequences and disruptions to efficiencies of a new process that frontline people may foresee.

Seek Clarity in Communication

When leaders explain a new direction or goals, they may be using terms that aren’t commonly understood. Clarity in communication is important in both directions. Leaders need to use clear terms when speaking to employees. And when employees are sharing feedback, leaders need to be open to seeking clarity to make sure they are fully understanding the input. In both directions, taking the time to verify, restate, and confirm information is important and helpful for common ground.

An example of the need for clear language can come when a new initiative or goal is related to a leadership book that the senior team has read together. The ideas they want to implement might be a great fit for their organization, but leaders may express the initiative using metaphors that aren’t familiar to people who haven’t read the same book.

An employee expressed the frustration of lack of clarity in a comment on a recent Best Christian Workplaces’ Employee Engagement Survey: “Our leaders are speaking about direction and vision with language we don’t understand.”

Seeking clarity doesn’t mean that leaders speak down to employees, but that they respect the position and perspective of everyone in the organization. A great communicator knows their audience and will take the time to check in and clarify that the ideas shared are understandable at an operational level.

Trust Affects Responses to New Information

Even with great communication practices, there will always be details that are not shared with everyone in an organization. People will naturally fill in the gaps with their own inferences about the full story. The level of trust between leaders and employees will impact the details that people imagine to be true when they process new information.

In a low-trust environment, the informal chatter will take a negative turn:

  • “Can you believe that they expect us to …?”
  • “This new initiative is going to fall flat because …”

In low-trust environments, workers assume the worst. When they don’t understand everything about a decision, they will fill in the blanks with their own story. If there is a low level of trust in leaders, the storyline will be negative. This can create anxiety, passive-aggressive behavior, and a burst of sideways energy that doesn’t move anything forward.

Contrast this with a high-trust environment. Employees who have input into a decision and have a trusting relationship with their leaders will be inclined to have a positive response. The staff may not understand everything that senior leaders considered in their decision-making, but the narrative that employees adopt will be positive when they trust their leaders.

In a high-trust environment informal conversations give leaders grace:

  • “I’m glad I had a chance to provide some feedback in this new process. I might have done this differently, but there must be some additional information that impacted the final decision.”
  • “I can see how this change will require some flexibility and new processes, but I’m sure it will move us toward our mission.”
  • When hearing a criticism: “I choose not to believe that about our leaders. I’d suggest you go to them with your concern.”

Next Steps

In your organization, do you regularly take the time to listen, seek input, and clarify direction? Does this process include people from all levels of your organization?

Take steps today to learn more about healthy communication in the workplace. Research by Best Christian Workplaces shows that communication is a critical driver of engagement and has a powerful impact on all of the other FLOURISH factors.

Download a free resource for your leadership team to read and discuss: 5 Keys to Healthy Communication. The practical tips will benefit everyone in your workplace as you grow in healthy communication at all levels.

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