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How to understand your employees’ communication styles

Only 26% of employees strongly agree their manager's feedback is helping them do better work, Gallup reports

  • Why it matters: When managers communicate effectively, they fill a critical void — helping employees access the context they need to make sense of their individual role and the feedback they need to continue doing it well, according to Gallup's It's the Manager.

Put those facts together, and we start to see a foggy disconnect many modern workplaces are wrestling to resolve. Managers may hold the power in unlocking employee productivity, but many of those same managers may not realize the updates they’re sharing could be more effective.

To get insight into what communication styles will resonate best with your employees, try a few low-lift exercises each year — or more often if you’re a small team — to make sure you continue to serve the team well. 

1. Listen to employees. The simplest way to understand how your folks best learn and absorb information is to ask them. 

  • Ask new hires how they like to learn and communicate. It could be a simple conversation or something more structured — like a "How I like to work" template — so you can analyze and understand each team member and what might work best across them. 

  • For an existing team, try a feedback survey. You could do it live in a team meeting, async with a poll, or whatever format works for you. Give your employees opportunities to share what's working and what they need more of. Share options of how you could improve or adjust the essential communications you send. Make it clear that their input will truly guide your decisions and path forward. 

2. Study how they communicate. Short of a survey, you can observe and understand team preferences and tendencies — both in how they interact with you and also one another. Consider:

  • Do they use or ask for graphs and data?
  • Are emojis more their style?
  • Do they lean toward meetings vs. chat messages?
  • Are they direct and straightforward, or do they need time and space to think about their contributions in a conversation? 

Starting to answer these questions, or others like them, can help you refine your approach — and integrate tone and tendencies that may resonate better with your team.

3. Reflect on your own style. Analyze the gaps between how you share information and how your team shares information with one another. The more you know about how you tend to communicate, the easier it is to challenge what you may want to change. 

  • Review your last handful of written updates. Do you always send out messages in the same format? The same length? The same tone? That might be your go-to style. Knowing that can help you realize where you're comfortable and where you can expand. 

  • Reflect on the agenda for your last few 1:1s or team meetings. Does the team come prepared? Or are there questions and discussions that tend to take things off course? Focus on seeing if your team has what they need to stay focused or if another touchpoint could help. 

4. Set a new standard. Use what you learn to adjust what, when, where, or how often you share essential communications with your team. Discuss why you're making changes and what they can expect going forward. And use this as a final milestone to take and incorporate their feedback. 

  • Figure out a consistent day and time to send communications, and stick to that schedule. That will build habit and trust with your readers. 

  • Consider using this moment to further upskill the team. Encourage key folks to collaborate on these essential communications — so they feel further bought-in, stay involved, and understand that they have true influence in how vital details are shared today and in the future. 

5. Revisit and revise. As new folks join and leave the organization, you'll need to revisit what information needs to be shared — and how employees best receive it. Try to do this each half of the year, depending on the size of your team. The world around us is always changing, and our strategies need to keep pace, too. 

The bottom line: The core of strong communication is understanding your audience, meeting them where they are, and offering the actionable insight and context they need to be successful. It also takes a lot of time, care, and empathy. But once you find a winning option, you'll be setting yourself up for future success. 

Go deeper: Hybrid 2.0: The powerful role managers play in modern workplace communications