Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

What managers should know about staff communications

Edited by Jill Wright,

When Lucy Kellaway, a columnist in the highly influential Financial Times publicly reprimanded the CEO of Starbucks over a well-meaning letter he sent to the company's staff - "On this Sunday, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, know that I send you my love and respect" was one riveting line" - I started thinking about what anyone in management should know in order to avoid things going pear-shaped when writing or talking to staff.

As Kellaway noted, "It isn't clear to me how he can send his love to about 100,000 people he has mostly never met and doesn't even know the names of. This is one of the differences between the deity and mortals: God can love everyone, but for a human, loving someone usually means getting to know them first."

The Harvard Business Review wrote quite a long article on how leaders could be authentic in their relations with employees which is definitely worth reading.

I asked one of our Melbourne psychologists, April Casswell, for her ideas on the topic. She came up with the following:

"If you want to ask a dog to ‘Sit’ or engage a timid toddler to say “Hello”, chances are you will spend a moment to think how you’re going to go about it. 

"If you get it wrong you will lose face in front of the dog or have the baby run to Mum crying for protection. 

"With both situations your tone of voice, pace of speech, body language and eye contact will determine whether or not your message is taken as intended.  

"But are you taking the same moment to think how you are delivering messages to your staff? Here, the consequences are often more dire than the rebuff of a dog. 

"Today’s workforce is demanding. Every communication, every email you are challenged to provide the mutual respect, understanding , and supportive communication HR has led them to believe you are capable of.  And further to this is the need to navigate sensitivities around multicultural differences and gender equality.  If this leaves you reeling, I’m not surprised.  So in the interests of putting your best foot forward let's go over the basics to get your 'staff speak' off and running so you are in the best position to influence at work:

1)     When Making Requests: State what you need directly in the shortest amount of words, using “I” in the place of “You”.

2)     If Delivering Unhappy News: SANDWICH it:

  1. State a genuine positive about the person's work.
  2. State the unhappy news.
  3. State another genuine positive about that person's work.

 To better connect with your staff, state your observations frequently e.g.  “It’s good to see the positive staff morale.” “I’m seeing you working hard.”

People thrive on the thought that someone is noticing them and how they feel. It connects you to them, increasing the likelihood of co-operation.

So have a go, make time to manage your body language and tone, think about how you’re delivering your communication and see just how much more connected you and your staff can feel.


About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the APS Victorian branch Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.

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