The Worst Communication Mistakes Leaders Make

by Dora Wang on Sep 30, 2015 11:00:00 AM

The Worst Communication Mistakes Leaders Make by TINYpulseiStock_000051960030_Small-2Leadership in the business world always involves a human element. A manager armed with the best organizational skills, industry savvy, and a take-charge personality can’t be a successful leader if they don’t connect with their employees. Good communication makes connection possible, but there are endless ways to communicate poorly.

The Harvard Business Review did a study that assessed communication issues preventing effective leadership. The top answers were:

  • Not recognizing employee achievements (63%)
  • Not giving clear directions (57%)
  • Not having time to meet with employees (52%)
  • Taking credit for others’ ideas (47%)

While these pitfalls might seem obvious, it’s easy to fall into them. Assessing your communication patterns for problem areas is a critical first step to improving those patterns.

1. Not enough recognition

You should always offer praise for excellent work, but it’s crucial to recognize specific contributions. Each employee brings their own strengths to the table, and they want to know that you notice those strengths. Can you identify what each of your employees contributes to their team that no one else does? "Good job" is great, but it feels hollow if it’s not followed by more concrete praise.  Not only should recognition happen often, but it should also demonstrate the "because" behind it.

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2. Unclear directions

Establishing concrete expectations enables employees to perform well. If you have underperformers, ask yourself if misunderstandings could be part of the problem. Have you laid out exactly what they need to do in order to be successful and broken down all the criteria for measuring performance? In the effort to not micromanage or avoid the hassle of a long-winded explanation, it’s easy to accidentally under-explain and just assume that they’ll know what they need to do. However, this only hurts you in the long run; unclear directions breed frustration and poor performance.  

3. Too busy for employees

Does one-on-one time with employees always have to be scheduled? Do you schedule those meetings only when a problem needs to be addressed? Do you frequently reschedule meetings with subordinates to attend to other demands of your job? If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," you’re showing your employees that you’re too busy for them. In order to trust you, they need to know that they are worth your time. Take time to check in outside of one-on-one meetings, even if it’s brief. Or if they reach out to you about an issue and you can’t meet right away, follow up as soon as possible.

4. Claiming others’ ideas

Employees want to be recognized for their contributions, to feel that their opinions and perspectives are heard. When discussing issues with them, do you tend to think that you have the right answer? When you pass on their feedback to your superiors, do you give them credit for their ideas? If employees don’t think their contributions are given their proper due, they’ll be much more hesitant to share ideas with you, much less trust you. 

Good communication practices are essential to building rapport and trust with your employees. Since there are so many ways to communicate poorly, it’s essential to test your own behaviors for weak spots. Do so and you’ll already be on the road to better practices.



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This post was written by Dora Wang

Dora is an employee engagement researcher for TINYpulse and managing editor of TINYinstitute. Having grown up in Texas, she is now firmly settled in Seattle, where she spends her free time reading comic books, wrangling her three cats, and (of course) rooting for the Seahawks.

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