Communication: Top Tool of World’s Greatest Bosses

Businesswoman Giving Thumbs Up - IsolatedBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

According to a new study by Seattle-based leadership training group, Fierce Inc., communication is the cornerstone of a good boss-employee relationship. The study, which polled over 1,700 corporate executives and employees, set out to find what qualities make a good boss, what reciprocal qualities make a good employee, and how they can work together to be most effective.

Four out of five respondents (80 percent) said the most important thing a boss can do is ask for feedback from their employees. A smaller but significant group (37 percent) said it was important for a supervisor to provide constructive feedback to his or her direct reports.

Since today is National Boss’s Day here in the United States, it may be a great opportunity to examine your own managerial communication style. How are you conveying your own leadership in the way you communicate?

Why Good Boss-Employee Relationships Matter

Halley Bock, CEO and president of Fierce, Inc., said she was pleasantly surprised by how many of survey respondents (spanning market sectors like finance, healthcare, retail, aerospace, and defense), said they got along with their manager.

“We hear so much about bad bosses, and as last year’s blockbuster movie Horrible Bosses made clear, a boss can deeply impact workplace morale. We were pleasantly surprised that the majority of employees actually like their boss, which ultimately creates more positive, productive relationships at work,” she began. “We were surprised that over 70% of respondents claimed to have a good working relationship with their supervisor. Even more encouraging was that 62% reported that their job satisfaction is ‘high’ or ‘extremely high,’ and 53% reported that their boss’s management style has a positive impact on their relationship with coworkers.”

With so many people ranking open communication so highly in the survey and so many people also rating their relationship with their supervisor so highly, then you could infer that boss-employee communication must be good amongst those surveyed.

That’s good news for companies, Bock continued. Recent research by the Corporate Executive Board and the Harvard Business Review found that companies characterized by open communication tend to perform better.

Bock explained, “They found that organizations that rated highly in the area of open communication delivered a 10-year TSR (total shareholder return) of 7.9%, compared to 2.1% at other companies who didn’t rate as highly.”

“Organizations that encourage open communication and honest feedback can enrich relationships and build trust. When employees have opinions, and they are heard and acknowledged, they are more productive, engaged and connected to their organization. Happy employees create happy customers,” she continued.

Focus on Communication

Bock provided a few of her most effective tips for being a good communicator. First of all, she said, position communication in terms of professional and relationship growth.

“Think about how the point of sharing this information is to move someone’s professional development and your relationship forward. Explore how you’ve received and given feedback in the past, and deliver it in a way that you would appreciate. A great leader has the ability to be candid without damaging friendships, so make sure you will provoke learning and enrich relationships by sharing your point of view.”

Next, she continued, remember that gender can impact the way people give and receive feedback. Moderating your style to account for these differences can go a long way in making sure your voice is heard the way you intend.

“Women may have a tendency to put more ‘pillows’ around a message as a way to soften the blow or minimize negative impact. Men may have a tendency to shoot from the hip and fail to tap into the emotional aspects that has the potential to build stronger relationships. That said, we’ve seen many outliers who blow these stereotypes away, both good and bad,” Bock explained. “The key is to be balanced and fair – respecting a person’s right to hear the truth while tending to their overall well being.”

Building a Culture of Communication

Bock believes that leaders can work to foster a culture of communication within their teams or organization that can ensure feedback is respectful and effective for everyone involved.

“Hold each other able to hear the truth,” she said. “When someone asks for feedback, or needs to hear it, whether it be about personal performance or the company’s well being, be completely honest. Know that your employee and your boss can handle the truth, and deserves to hear it.”

“But,” she continued, “deliver it in a way that enriches the relationship. If you’ve provided feedback and destroyed the relationship in the process, you’re one of the many horrible bosses that is fodder for Hollywood.”

Next, she said, “be a role model. Whenever you give feedback, deliver it in a way that you would like to receive it. If you want feedback to be respectful and effective, then bosses need to mirror these qualities themselves in every interaction and conversation.”

“A leader can set the tone of the whole organization by the way he or she acts,” she added.