Communicating as a Manager

a mixed group of healthcare professional and business people meet around a conference table.

Communication is the heart of everything you do as a manager.  Studies show that managers spend as much time as 80% of their workday communicating.  You spend your day talking, listening, presenting, and sharing information with people.

The better you are at sharing your ideas and communicating, the more you will understand your employee’s needs and the more successful you will be as a manager.

Shot of a group of businesswomen using a laptop during a meeting at work

Be a positive communicator

Research shows that employees whose managers communicate in positive ways are more productive and feel more positive about their work.  Being a positive communicator means offering recognition, support, feedback, praise and encouragement.

Set a positive tone.

Discourage complaining, gossip, and negativity among the employees you manage.  Avoid engaging in it yourself.  Remember the shadow you cast and lead by example.

Make personal connections with employees even when you are busy.

This doesn’t have to take a lot of time.  Connecting can be simple things like, “How did your meeting go today?” or “Good luck in your 5K this weekend.” Pick up the phone or send an e-mail but when you can, try to connect in person.

Be positive in the nonverbal ways you communicate.

Be aware of the messages you send with body language, tone of voice and eye contact.

Create an atmosphere of open communication.

Let employees know you are not too busy to be interrupted for concerns or unexpected issues.  Have hours you are available in your office with the door open.  Encourage people to stop by.  If you’re busy when they try, don’t let them slip away.  Make an appointment for later, or call as soon as you have the opportunity. Thank people for stopping in. If some people habitually chew your ear off, politely set limits.  “I just have a few minutes today.  I need to finish this email or project, but I would love to hear what’s on your mind.”

Encourage employees to be open and candid.

Show you are serious about creating and sustaining an open atmosphere by being open in your interactions. Share what you can. Nurture openness and trust.

Business team solving problems together in office
At Ohio State, our communication is direct and honest and we promote authenticity and transparency in our relationships and activities. Otherwise, you undermine your credibility and reputation.

If you don’t know the answer to a question, be honest and say so.

Research the question yourself or work with your employee to find the answer. If you promise to get back with an answer, be sure to do so.

Speak simply, clearly and avoid jargon.

Your employees will be less likely to misinterpret what you said or intended to say.  Sometimes employees get frustrated when managers use or overuse the latest jargon.  Just say what you mean.

Explain your decisions as much as possible.

Giving reasons for your decisions demonstrates respect and minimizes misunderstandings, misperceptions, hurt feelings and rumors.  Say you decide to cancel a project group members have been working on.  People will want to hear and understand why.  What were the main considerations that went into the decision and who was involved in making it?  Explain as much as you can.

Never communicate when you are angry or feeling highly emotional.

In highly charged situations, take the time to gather your thoughts.  You might compose a draft e-mail or draft notes for a future conversation, then save it and come back to it the next day when you are feeling less emotional.  Never send an e-mail when you are feeling emotional.  Email can cause more confusion and lead to conflict.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

If you have offered to take an action but later find it’s not possible to follow through, let those who are affected know right away.


If you say something you later wish you hadn’t, follow up with a personal response and an apology.  Maybe you spoke harshly to an employee, overreacted at a meeting, or criticized someone harshly.  An apology is in order.  Offer it in private and in person.  “I apologize for what I said yesterday.”

Keep people informed.  

Give updates in regularly scheduled meetings about work, projects, and organization changes.  Generally, people like to be told about the big-picture issues.  For many employees, it’s important to understand how they fit into the functioning of the organization.

Deliver sensitive information tactfully and carefully.

If you have personal or confidential information to share, arrange a time when you can both of you can devote the time and attention needed.  Respect employee privacy as well.  For example, if you are working on performance reviews, don’t leave them out where they might be seen by others.

Respond to messages and requests from employees promptly whenever possible.  

If you can’t respond that day, send a quick message saying when you can respond.

Keep in mind that people’s talents, skills, interests and personalities are different.

Some people are intimidated by a very direct style. Others aren’t comfortable responding on the spot to their manager; they need to go away and think things over first.  Some people need lots of detailed data and information, while others want to understand issues from a big-picture perspective or only want to talk about the human impact. Observe people’s interactions and individual differences in communication styles and respect these as much as possible.  Make it a priority to fully understand and respect the unique job challenges of each of your employees.

Know what information to share, and not share, with your employees.

It may be fine, for example, to share certain information about an organizational change, but not everything you know.  If you are unsure, ask your manager to clarify what is OK and not OK to share.

Shot of a young businesswoman leading a brainstorming session during a meeting
Active listening is the foundation of effective communication. It means letting the other person talk and making the effort to fully understand what he or she is saying, before you respond.  It means thoughtfully paying attention and not letting your mind wander. When you actively listen, you pay attention to listening. You don’t interrupt, check your email or take calls. Read more…

Practice active listening and make it a habit.

When you interact with someone at work, face the person, stop what you are doing, make eye contact, and listen. If your mind starts to wander or you feel yourself about to multitask, tell yourself these things can wait. You’re busy listening.

Paraphrase what the other person said using your own words to be sure you understood.

It’s a way to clarify and confirm information. You might say, “So what I heard you say is that the director wants a new plan from us by Monday.”

Be curious and ask people what they think.

You can say, “How do you see it?” or “What do you think?”

Listen for the meaning behind the words and make sure you watch the non-verbal’s as well.

An employee’s non-verbal’s can help you better understand the message.

Shot of a group of colleagues working together in an officeTake the time to meet regularly one-on-one to review workloads and assignments, expectations and concerns. All employees need time with their manager, but many don’t get enough. A recent Gallup poll showed only 42% of the workforce knows what’s expected of them. While monthly meetings are much better than none at all, regularly scheduled time with employees is the best way to ensure people understand the work and have the support and comfort level they need to be productive. Read more…

Take the time to explain and review goals.

Data from a recent Watson Wyatt study showed a majority of U.S. employees are unclear about the link between their jobs and their company’s objectives. Yet research also consistently shows when employees feel connected to the business and understand how their actions can support it, there is less employee turnover and greater productivity. Reviewing goals is a productive way to spend your time as a manager. Tie the work to organizational objectives so employees understand not only their work but the university’s objectives and goals as well.

Listen and ask questions at your meetings with employees.

Do employees know what is expected of them on a given project or assignment?  Have you gone over the project timeline together?  Does the employee have the tools he or she needs to do the work?

Coach your employees to help them reach their full potential.

Help employees use their strengths effectively and grow the skills they need to further develop.

Young woman with question marks drawn on chalkboard behind herHere are several “prompts” and “deepeners” to help you in your conversations.  Notice that some are questions and others are statements.  Avoid using all questions or your employee will feel as if he/she is on the witness stand!

For Developing a Relationship:

  • Tell me a couple of high points and a couple of challenges in your day/week/month.
    • (For high points)  What skills, knowledge, or attitudes did you use to help make this happen?
    • (For challenges) What part, if any did you play?  Is this part of a larger challenge you’re dealing with?
  • Describe how you best like to learn
  • I’d love to hear your story.
  • Tell me some key experiences in your life.  What made _______ so important?
  • What do people say you do best?
  • What talents are you most proud of?
  • What makes you laugh?
  • What do you wish you had more time to do?
  • If I were to give you an extra hour a day, what would you do with it?
  • What is the most important thing you and I should talk about?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • How do you balance work and the rest of your life?
  • What’s standing in the way of what you would like to be or do?
  • What was the best working situation you’ve ever had?
  • What do you hope your life will look like in one to five years?
  • What do you wish you had known or done 10 years ago?  Earlier than that?
  • What things are you doing that you would like to stop doing or delegate to someone else?
  • What area of your responsibility are you most satisfied with?  Least satisfied with?
  • May I ask your advice about____?

For a particular situation or dilemma:

  • What is your vision for this?
  • Would you say more about that?
  • What have you already tried?
  • What has worked well for you in the past?
  • Tell me what happened next.
  • What should be the results?  What steps have you taken to get to the results?
  • If you _____, what will probably happen?  What would you prefer to happen?
  • What are the reasons this didn’t work as well as you had hoped?
  • What behaviors produced the results with which you’re now dissatisfied?
  • How do you feel about this?
  • What are other choices?  What options do you have?
  • What is the most important thing to do here?  What is your ultimate goal?
  • What is the area that, if you made an improvement, would completely change the game?  How can you pull this off?
  • What values do you stand for and are there gaps between those values and how you actually behave?
  • How does this decision match up with who you know you are?
  • How long has this issue been going on?  What are you pretending not to know?
  • If nothing changes, what are the implications?
  • What is currently impossible to do that, if it were possible, would change everything?
  • What’s the most important decision you’re facing?  What keeps you from making it?
  • I’m curious about…
  • Are there other ways of looking at this?
  • Are there ways to make the situation different?
  • How do other people you admire handle similar situations?
  • At this point, what matters most to you?
  • Describe how this is connected to other events.
  • Is this a pattern of some kind?
  • What story do you most often hear yourself telling?
  • How would your ideal self-create a solution?
  • What would you try now if you knew you could not fail?
  • What is the experience you are looking to create?
  • What am I not asking that you really want me to ask?

To gain commitment:

  • What small steps can you take to get you closer to your vision?
  • What needs to happen next?  What needs to happen differently?
  • How much energy are you willing to put into that?
  • Of all the options we have discussed, what is the most attractive one?  What is the one you want to own?
  • What is your next step?  When will you do that?  What might prevent you from doing that?
  • What are you committed to?
  • If this were resolved, what would become possible?
  • What might prevent you from accomplishing that?  What are the reasons to take this on?
  • In the next week, what could you do?  What will you do?
  • When will you start?
  • What will you do first?
  • What is the most potent step you can take towards resolution?  When can I follow up with you?

Question starters:

  • Tell me about…
  • What did you know…?
  • What did you do…?
  • How did you feel..?
  • How did it happen…?
  • What occurred…?
  • Where did it happen…?
  • When did it happen…?
  • Can you remember…?
  • What could you do…?
  • How would you know…?
  • It sounds as though…
  • You seem to be feeling…

Hispanic female attentively listens to unrecognizable personFeedback is a gift which helps us better understand our behaviors and actions and how they impact others.  Asking for feedback from employees and your own manager is also important. Remember that immediate and specific feedback is what we all need to reinforce our positive behaviors and improve in our work.  If done well, it can be a positive experience for everyone.  Click for a few suggestions:

Provide specific appreciative feedback on a regular basis.

Often times in our minds we are very appreciative of the work our employees are doing, but are we really verbally sharing that with our employees?

Provide opportunities for employees to share ideas and concerns.

Provide these opportunities in both individual and group meetings.

Ask for feedback from employees.

Show employees you respect and want to hear what they have to say, even if you don’t always agree.  In individual or small-group meetings, ask “Is there anything I can do to make this project easier?”

Follow through both in answering questions and responding to feedback.

This shows employees you can be counted on and you care.

Conflict is normal in all work settings, even among the most productive employees.

Take conflict seriously.

Failure to deal with conflict among employees or between an employee and a manager can lead to absenteeism, inefficient work, and even workplace violence.  Where there is a conflict, face it directly and promptly.

Help employees understand that resolving conflict requires give and take from everyone.

You might say something like this: “All groups of people have conflicts.  In this group, when we have a conflict, we talk about it, everyone listens and gets listened to and then we agree on a plan to move ahead.”

Employee Assistance Program support,

If you need support in resolving a conflict, seek help from your manager, Human Resources or the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Talking it through with a professional can be very helpful.