As a manager, you’re going to spend a lot of time communicating - to different audiences, for different reasons, in different ways.
If you can improve your communication, even by 5%, it will compound across everything you do.
We’re going to cover::
Every time you communicate, you’re looking to have a certain impact, on a certain audience, and you choose the format you think will best help you do that.
That may feel a bit grand for describing an emoji response on Slack, but it’s true.
Think about the times you feel you got a piece of communication right (not necessarily in the workplace) - you probably understood the person/people you were communicating with, knew the impact you wanted to have, and chose the right way to do it.
This article is (hopefully) an example of that:
Conversely, if you think about a time some communication didn’t land well, you probably got one of these three factors wrong. For example, that big strategy e-mail to senior leadership which didn’t get read or that team meeting where everyone on the call seemed disengaged.
Although it may seem overkill at times, if you’re trying to get your communication right consider these three factors:
It can be particularly useful to return to these principles when you’re trying to troubleshoot poor communications practices that you’ve inherited from other leaders (i.e. team meetings).
We’re going to look at three key types of communications you’ll make as a new manager and some approaches to consider.
We’ll consider the audience, impact, and format of each one.
Your team. You’ll know them better than we do, but some aspects to consider include:
Team updates are interesting because often you’ll want to have multiple impacts with your audience. These may include:
For points 2, 3, and 4, you may decide the best format for that is a meeting (either in-person or virtually). These are all elements which benefit from discussion in real-time (‘synchronous communication’) and could be a good fit for a meeting. There are also intangible benefits in terms of team spirit and morale to celebrating wins and discussing challenges together in the same place.
Point 1 is different. If you’re trying to help your team digest information and retain knowledge, is the best format to present it to them in a meeting? Probably not. It’s often best to put this information in writing (either email, or in a wiki, or however you store your docs) so individuals can digest it whenever it suits them. This type of communication doesn’t require participants to be together to be effective (‘asynchronous communication’). It also enables you to share information beyond those who could make a meeting (e.g. your boss or other stakeholders).
Some of the most effective team updates include both formats - an information update which you distribute ahead of time, followed by a meeting to collectively discuss any important points.
‘Meetings exist for synchronous discussion between everyone involved. If that’s not what you need, don’t have a meeting.’ Matt Schelhas
Your boss. Again, you’ll know them best.
When updating your boss, you’re typically looking to keep them better informed on matters that will:
You’ll remember that we’ve already covered this in Alignment & Managing Up. Your boss will have a preferred format for receiving updates from you, and you should discuss this with them. It may take a bit of trial and error to get there (and ask for feedback) but you should be able to settle on something that works.
Like the team update, communicating well with your boss likely needs multiple formats - concise, written updates for information updates with meetings for any topics that need to be discussed.
The group discussion is different from the other two examples here because the audience is defined by the impact you want to have.
Depending on whether your topic for discussion is ‘Brainstorm product ideas for Q3’ or ‘Marketing Campaign Retrospective’ or ‘Decisions on New Hires’, that will define the audience who should be in the room.
Your first step to creating a great group discussion is getting your guestlist right - deciding who to include and who to exclude.
The second bit is the tricky part. Often you’ll feel pressure to include people who offer little value to the discussion (often for reasons of seniority, or because ‘it’s the way it’s always been done’).
Try to resist this. These people will diminish the discussion by diluting the impact of those who have the most to offer.
Focus on gathering the people together who will give you the most chance of achieving your impact. If you have to exclude people who you think will expect to be there, take the time to explain why rather than giving them the cold-shoulder and compromising any relationships.
‘Thoughtful, considered exclusion is vital to any gathering’ Priya Parker, The Art of Gathering
Being clear about the impact you want to have is vital for having a successful discussion. It will help you keep it on track when the topics of conversation drift.
If your broad topic is ‘Brainstorm product ideas for Q3’, what exactly are you hoping to get out of the discussion? Are you just throwing around ideas for an hour or are you hoping to define a roadmap?
If you’re doing a retrospective on a marketing campaign, what do you want to know? Do you want to reflect on challenges? Celebrate successes? Focus on specific areas?
Be specific about the impact you want to have, and use that to create an agenda, and shape the discussion to achieve it.
Many group discussions will take place in a meeting (although as discussed previously you could use an Async Meeting). The setting enables fast exchange of ideas and debate in real-time.
When it comes to group discussions in meetings, assuming you have selected the right audience, and have a clear purpose, we’d also consider:
As you develop your communication style and the communication culture in your team, you may want to consider the following: