Several years ago, I was working at a company that held a year-end staff party — generally a fun-filled occasion. But that excitement was quickly diffused when a communication blunder changed the entire vibe. And it was completely avoidable, just by improving the style of the message.
The CEO took the opportunity to stand up and address the staff. First, he acknowledged that we had done great work over the course of the year, which was a welcome message. But then he also let us know that none of us would be receiving a bonus. With his hands stuffed deep into his pockets, he explained that expenses were up and profits just weren’t what they used to be. We were understandably disappointed, and although it wasn’t the message we wanted to hear, it was what came next that really changed people’s perceptions.
Our leader went on to tell us about the extravagant vacations he and his family had taken over the course of the year. We heard about how they swam with the dolphins in the Bahamas and how they ate delicious Kobe beef in Japan. Of course, if it were another time or place, we’d be much more interested to hear those stories — but for a group that just lost their chance at a year-end bonus, you can imagine how everyone was feeling at that point. The tone was off.
Even for well-liked professionals in great companies, this example shows how a small misstep in communication can make a major impact. Fortunately, there are proactive ways to improve the way you deliver any message.
1. Make a better connection using technology & tools
According to Dean Brenner, an expert in persuasive communication, poor communication can have a dramatic negative effect, disrupting business on a fundamental level.
The cost of communication failures can be seen across the company — decreased focus, failure of purpose, lack of innovation, drop in morale and a loss of credibility, says Brenner. Fortunately, there is a fix.
A recent study by Dynamic Signal suggests that organizations can boost productivity by 25 per cent simply by better connecting with employees. They suggest using technology and tools to deliver the right messages to internal audiences and ensuring that everyone knows what’s happening company-wide. “Today’s communication professionals need to be able to reach employees with the most current company news and information—regardless of where they’re located.”
The payoff is not only a better-connected employee base, but an enhanced bottom line. For every one per cent increase in employee engagement, brands can expect to see an additional 0.6 per cent growth in sales.
2. Engage your teams by sharing information
At Construction Safety Nova Scotia (CSNS), they understand the upside of clear, coherent communication among staff and management. The small team holds a daily scrum to talk about the operational goals, check in with the various departments and align priorities, says communications specialist Tyler Colbourne.
“The ideas and conversations are cultivated into something more — a project or an idea — that can be discussed at weekly management meetings,” he says. “Within the communications department, we send out daily emails for all staff, which include news related to the industry we serve, organizational updates and fun facts.”
One of the challenges the organization faces is ensuring that field employees have access to the same information as office staff, Colbourne says.
“To increase our capacity for collaboration we have incorporated [Microsoft] Teams, OneNote, and Skype into our workflow,” he explains. “We have 26 employees at CSNS, but many work in the field and getting everyone in the same room can be a logistical challenge. Embracing other tools for communication has allowed us to save time and lean on the knowledge and skill of our internal experts.”
3. Make it fun
CSNS also sends a monthly bulletin to all staff, which includes general updates about ongoing projects and operations, and encourages an office culture where everyone talks, shares and collaborates, Colbourne says.
“Collaboration is key to keeping our priorities aligned with the mission and vision of our organization,” he says. “Each employee contributes valuable information and perspective to our communication initiatives.”
Colbourne says he’s passionate about telling stories with impact, and doing it in a fun and engaging way.
“In our office, we have TVs that highlight our services and opportunities. Incorporated in the slideshow are training course dates, products and services, and pictures of our staff playing softball or celebrating and laughing.”
“We’re improving safety in the construction industry in Nova Scotia, but we’re also having fun as a collaborative and mission-focused team of professionals,” he says.
4. Body language speaks volumes
Mark Bowden, a world-renowned body language expert and founder of Truthplane in Toronto, says body language and environment are as important as content when it comes to effective communication.
In some cases, you might be surprised how a little shift can make a big difference. “The way you were oriented around the table for the board meeting is not necessarily the best set-up for the strategic planning session,” says Bowden, who advises CEOs and presidents of Fortune 500 companies.
The same goes for messages from leadership and your internal communications — especially when delivering key messages to the entire company. “Organizations and individuals should think more critically when it comes to important communications, and not fall into taking the last setup as the default for the next,” he says.
Communication is most effective when it comes from what Bowden has trademarked as the “truthplane” — a body language methodology representing a horizontal plane that extends 180 degrees out from your body. This imaginary line demonstrates how you can better connect with your audience, and draw them in further.
By bringing the audience’s unconscious attention to you, it can improve their perception of you. Even if you’re not that comfortable in front of a crowd, the audience will see your confidence.
“Our body language not only leads others to feelings about us and what we are saying, but also leads our own internal thoughts and feelings about our performance.”