There are probably as many managerial communication styles out there as there are managers. If you could peek in on team meetings in hotels, restaurants, and resorts around the world, you'd be likely to observe managers doling out effusive praise, tough love, sales reports, scolding, business-speak, pep talks -- and everything in between.
Every manager out there has a signature style of communication, and it is usually devised and carried out with the very best of intentions. But what many managers fail to take into consideration is that communication should serve a very specific purpose. If the way that you tend to address your employees has more to do with emotions than with goal-oriented solutions, you could be missing out on some great opportunities to shape and improve your team's performance.
According to David Cottrell, director of the Cornerstone Leadership Institute and the author of The Manager's Communication Handbook, the best way managers can inspire top-notch performance from their team is to develop a problem-solving communication style. Rather than simply dressing down your employees when they falter or lavishing them with non-specific praises when they succeed, managers should view every interaction as a "teachable moment" that can be used to further hone the team's skills and expertise.
As with any new habit, developing a problem-solving communication style can take some time and practice. The process might feel awkward and stilted at first, but within a few weeks' time, problem-solving prompts will be rolling off your tongue with no effort at all. Here are some guidelines to help you adapt your own problem-solving approach to communication.
Whether you're discussing an employee's specific shortcomings, or an organization-wide challenge, such as boosting dessert sales, take care to keep your language neutral and non-judgmental. By sticking only to tangible facts, you'll focus the team's attention on actions, which can easily be changed, rather than flaws, which are a more daunting challenge to overhaul.
After you've described the problem, engage employees in a brainstorming session. Have everyone think of several realistic solutions to the challenge your facing. If possible, assign this as "homework." After several days, arrange another meeting to go over the ideas everyone has developed. Express appreciation for each idea and accept everyone's contributions non-critically.
Whether the setting is a team meeting or an individual employee review, the next step is systematically evaluating each of the possible solutions that have been brought to the table. As the manager, your role in this process is to lead the discussion as a facilitator. Although it is clear that you have the ultimate responsibility for choosing the best solution, make it equally clear that you are considering every option that is put forth by the team.
Once a solution has been decided upon, involve employees in the campaign to put their ideas into action. By delegating as much of the implementation process as possible to the employees themselves, you will increase their sense of ownership, investment, and engagement -- all qualities that experts identify as foolproof performance-boosters.
Once you've adopted a problem-solving communication style, don't be surprised if you find out that it's contagious. Workplace studies have shown that when managers consciously adopt a more proactive communication strategy, it often catches on among employees, as well!