4 tips toward good communication for managers

Government professionals need to boost their communication skills well beyond the basics if they want succeed as leaders and meet agency missions in a fast-evolving world amid global competition, according to a human resources management expert.

With the backdrop of budget pressures and increasingly challenging times for the federal government, managers are grappling with how to best shape and manage future leaders. A survey that the American Management Association conducted in 2010 revealed that a handful of skill sets – dubbed the Four Cs – are evolving into must-have elements for the workforce in challenging times: Critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.


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According to the survey, effective communication is the No. 1 priority in federal agencies but the problem is how to best do it, said Stewart Liff, a human resources management expert who spent 32 years in the federal government. From the survey and his own experience, Liff offered some tips.

Ensure employees understand the big picture. Part of that means getting them to become more politically savvy, he said in a Nov. 1 presentation. If employees know what happens on a national level, they are more inclined to better understand the forces that drive their managers, he said.

“Don’t assume everyone is aware what (Rep.) Eric Cantor (R-Va) is saying this week or what President [Barack] Obama is doing,” Liff said. “Teach people the big picture: What are some of the forces going on around the country that could potentially affect you?”

Whether it is the supercommittee, the upcoming election or the crisis in Europe, employees need to be aware of the forces that influence what leaders in Washington will be doing, Liff said.

“If [employees] know what’s going on in Washington, they then know what goes on in your local organization and understand and are comfortable with what [their manager] is doing and why,” he said.

Use a “whole-brain” approach. As learning preferences differ, managers need to communicate in different ways, whether it is verbally, in written form or with pictures and video -- to avoid losing their audience.

Provide one-on-one feedback. Missing this aspect could lead to employees feeling distrust toward their managers. But once- or twice-a-year feedback is not nearly enough, Liff said and suggested monthly or quarterly meeting with employees. However, managers should remember that the feedback they are providing should not come as a surprise to the employee to avoid being perceived as two-faced, he warned.

Read between the lines. Liff urged managers to get out of their offices and walk around the areas where their employees work and read their body language to get a better idea of what goes on in the organization.

“If you’re the type if person who comes down once a year, the day before Christmas, to say, ‘how are things going?’ what do you think the response is going to be?” he asked. “Nobody is going to take you seriously. But if you walk around every day and talk to people, they’re really going to tell you what’s going on.”

 

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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