Six Ways to Improve Interpersonal Communication During Unstable & Challenging Times

By Dana & Ellen Borowka, MA

Have you ever had miscommunication with your employees or co-workers that resulted in costly errors?

[dropcaps type=”circle” color=”” background=””]I[/dropcaps]t’s been said there is a significant difference between hearing someone speak to you and really listening to what they say. Most managers consider themselves to be good listeners. But is that really the case?

man chessBeing a connected manager requires that you suspend judgment of your subordinates’ actions or reactions while you try to understand them. Personality assessments provide a great deal of clues. Sometimes, you will need to read between the lines of what they say. Next comes gentle questioning and probing, to clarify what is going on. The goal is to understand and not to judge.

Joe’s Story

To illustrate, here is the story of Joe (real example, but not his real name). Joe is a production manager for a furniture manufacturing firm, who oversees about 50 employees that work in teams of 5-10 in manufacturing cells. His primary responsibilities are meeting production quotas, and interacting with the customer service and shipping departments. The general manager became aware that these departments were encountering difficulties meeting quota and shipping schedules due to production problems in Joe’s department.

Since Joe has been with the company many years, the manager requested that we work with Joe to identify why these problems were taking place. We found that Joe’s communication style was harsh and vague with his teams. In turn, they focused on his poor communication rather than the task at hand. They would take his instructions “as is” and work on the assignment with limited information instead of asking questions to clarify the process. The results were reduced production, increased safety violations and poor workmanship.

This situation is not uncommon to most business people. Yet, Joe seemed to have a hard time accepting the problems that management was pointing out to him. In order to illustrate Joe’s growth areas, we had him take an in-depth work style/personality assessment, which identifies not only areas for an individual to improve upon, but also strengths and personality traits. We have found this to be a valuable tool in assisting employees to gain insight about themselves. When Joe reviewed the profile results, he discovered the same growth areas that the management team was focusing on. He then became more open to exploring ways to resolve the problems.

Becoming a Connected Manager

One of the first points we worked on with Joe was how to listen effectively to others. A primary cause for poor communication is poor listening skills, where the listener fails to take in all the available information, and instead relies on his or her own assumptions. Joe found that by using active listening, where one paraphrases what he or she thinks the other person is saying, that he was able to avoid this kind of miscommunication with his teams. We encouraged Joe to avoid interrupting others and to ask more questions to ensure better understanding. Effective listening ensures that both the listener and the speaker end up on the same page.

rainbow manAnother cause for ineffective communication is poor speaking skills where the speaker provides vague and incomplete or emotionally charged information to the listener. We suggested that Joe use “I” statements when speaking to his teams. By using I statements, Joe was able to take responsibility for his comments while clarifying his thoughts. An example of an “I” statement, “I feel under a great deal of pressure when you give the client a due date without checking with me first, because there may be some difficulties meeting that deadline.” “I” statements are composed of three elements: The “I” helps the speaker maintain the responsibility for his or her feelings or observations; the “when” gives a specific example for the other person; and the “because” provides the reason for why the speaker is concerned by the situation. “I” statements help the speaker to avoid being vague and accusatory with others.

Others can also interpret poor communication as a lack of respect and empathy. Joe discovered that he was unintentionally showing disrespect to his staff through his harsh communication. We suggested that Joe meet with his staff to discuss any problems and find some solutions. This created a sense of common goal – a shared need they all want and can agree upon, which encouraged teamwork rather than alienation.

The general manager and employees were very pleased by the positive results from Joe’s communication training. Customers are receiving their orders on time; accidents have decreased; workmanship has improved so production returns have decreased; and incentive bonuses were awarded to the plant. Proficient communication is not by any means the easiest thing to do. It takes practice, patience and respect, yet the benefits can be immense.

Six Tips to Better Communication

For most managers, this does not come naturally. Here is how to apply this in your world. These six tips will help you become a better listener, communicator and manager.

  1. Use in-depth work style/personality tests as communications tools. Personality testing gives the manager and employees a common language about how they like to interact. The assessments can help you train future managers on how to get the best out of the team.
  2. Practice active listening — An active listener is ready and willing to really hear what the other person has to say. When you actively listen, you pay close attention to the speaker and don’t just wait until they get done talking, or worse yet, interrupt them. Paraphase back to the person to check in that you fully understand what is being said.
  3. Enter the listening zone. When a subordinate approaches you to discuss something, go into listening mode. Do what it takes to minimize distractions, look the speaker in the eye, and make a decision in your head to really listen. If you know their personality type, then think what their style of communication is.
  4. Seek to understand first. Pay close attention to what the subordinate is really saying, both the words and the feeling behind them. Watch the speaker’s body language. biz people hikingInstead of interrupting if you have a question or comment, write it down so you can remember it for later.
  5. Show empathy. Empathy, the ability to know and feel what others experience — is the foundation of being a connected leader. Managers in industries ranging from health care to high tech are realizing benefits to their team’s productivity when they show empathy.
  6. Hold your reactions. Have you ever seen someone react negatively to what you say without saying a word? Even if you disagree with the subordinate, do not react negatively by shaking your head or putting on a big frown. Instead give positive cues like smiling, maintaining eye contact, and leaning toward the speaker

We all want to be understood. Employee buy-in comes when a manager is able to listen attentively, understand them as people and to lead naturally. There’s an old saying, “Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, working together is Success!” Effective communication not only saves companies money, but also increases their bottom line return.

Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2014

Dana Borowka, MA, CEO of Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC and his organization constantly remain focused on their mission statement – “To bring effective insight to your organization”. They do this through the use of in-depth work style assessments to raise the hiring bar so companies select the right people to reduce hiring and management errors. They also have a full service consulting division that provides domestic and international interpersonal coaching, executive onboarding, leadership training, global options for expanding your business, sales and customer service training, operational productivity improvement, 360s and employee surveys as well as a variety of workshops. Dana has over 25 years of business consulting experience and is a nationally renowned speaker, radio and TV personality on many topics. He provides workshops on hiring, managing for the future, and techniques to improve interpersonal communications that have a proven ROI. He is the co-author of the books, “Cracking the Personality Code” and “Cracking the Business Code”. To order the books, please visit

If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC, 3130 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 550, Santa Monica, CA 90403, (310) 453-6556, & our website:

Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style assessments for new hires & staff development, team building, interpersonal & communication training, career guidance & transition, conflict management, 360s, workshops, and executive & employee coaching. Other areas of expertise: Executive on boarding for success, leadership training for the 21st century, exploring global options for expanding your business, sales and customer service training and operational productivity improvement.