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Ten ways that you're communicating badly with your workforce

Published: Nov 04, 2016
Ten ways that you're communicating badly with your workforce

Have you ever questioned the approach your business leaders take? Here we explore how to change a negative conversation into a positive one – and how to develop your leaders to enable this.

Ten ways that you’re communicating badly with your workforce

Are you a negative leader? Are your team afraid to come to you with concerns because you only call a meeting when there’s bad news? Do your workforce flinch when you walk through the room?

Negative communication is one of the biggest failings people name when they talk about their managers – and it’s an easy mistake to make.

Here are ten ways in which you might be communicating badly with your workforce – and how to stop, and change your relationship with your employees.

  • Listing the failures

If the first words out of your mouth when you speak to a member of your team are negative, listing the things they’ve done wrong, your team may actively avoid speaking with you.

Instead, try to focus on the things they do well, and then discuss why something went wrong, and what you can do to support them or train them so that the mistake isn’t repeated.

  • Nagging

Do you repeatedly remind your employees when they need to complete a task? This can not only eat into your own valuable time, but it makes the employee stressed, and makes them feel that you don’t trust them to do the job they’ve been hired to do.

Instead, trust that you have recruited the right people – and clearly set out tasks with a deadline, and let the employee get on with it. This allows a sense of independence and pride, and means that you can concentrate on your own workload.

  • Being the best

Are you always telling people how to do every aspect of their job? Do you point out the way that you would do this task and that, and interrupt your workforce to tell them how work?

Don’t assume that because you’re the leader, you have to be the best at everything. You aren’t an expert in every field – and you’re not supposed to be.

Instead, trust the experts that you’ve hired, who have specialist knowledge in the area they work in, and let them do the job they understand – and support them to do it well.

  • Demanding answers

When things go wrong, do you bark orders and demand answers from your team?

This approach puts people on the defensive – and means that you might not get a whole or honest answer, or ever really understand why mistakes were made.

Instead, be part of the team, and get to the bottom of an issue by asking why the team think something went wrong, let them highlight areas that they feel they could have done better, and work with them to improve those areas so that mistakes aren’t repeated.

  • Repeating bad news

If something goes wrong, targets aren’t met, or deadlines are missed, you need to deal with the situation and make sure that it doesn’t happen again. But have you ever found yourself mentioning past mistakes or criticising your team about them after the fact?

Instead, when you have to share bad news, be concise, be clear, and approach it with a plan to improve. Discuss with those involved what went wrong, and why, and then work together to put steps in place to ensure that improvements are made – and then let it be history, and focus on the positive steps taken and goals you’re working towards now.

  • Public showdown

Have you ever berated a member of your team in front of their peers, or even those below them?

This can be a very destructive approach, and damage the confidence and ability of the person you’ve given a dressing down – but can also have a knock-on effect of damaging the respect they get from other members of the team.

Instead, if you have an issue to discuss, let it be a private matter between you and that employee. If you’re angry, give yourself chance to calm down and schedule a meeting with them. Be calm and professional when you deal with the issue, and involve HR in any disciplinary matters.

  • Blaming the person

When a mistake is made do you put the weight of it on the shoulders of a member of your team? Have you ever told someone that they are a failure?

Instead, focus on how to address the problem; remember that it’s your job as a leader to ensure that the workforce has all the knowledge and support that they need to do their job. When something goes wrong we can all get frustrated – but the issue should be with the failing itself, not a personal one.

  • Not listening

Have you ever found yourself discarding comments from employees at the bottom of the ladder, only giving voice to more senior members of the team?

Consider this: if your team can’t come to you with suggestions or concerns, are you doing your job properly?

Instead, try listening to input from all members of your team; let them come to you to discuss the way the business is run and the role they play in it. Every business has a wide range of people with their own unique set of skills. Even someone new to the business could have something valuable to contribute – a fresh set of eyes that might see a better way to do something you’ve always done differently, or a newer, more efficient methodology that could free up time, resources or employees for entirely new opportunities.

  • Vague instructions

Have you ever asked a team to deliver “more and better” without pinning down a precise target?

The danger of this is that your team will be unsure about what they are doing, or how it’s being measured – and whether they can achieve it without those measures.

Instead, be concise about what exactly you expect – and when by. With clear goals, the team are going to be much happier and more aware of their performance, and when everyone knows what’s expected of them they can get on with their job.

  • Micromanaging

Speaking of getting on with the job – are you a helicopter boss? Do you buzz around the office with your finger in every pie, making sure that you have personally dotted every I and crossed every T?


Stop! First of all, you’re going to burn yourself out; you can’t be everywhere, every day, tracking every single task.

Secondly, you’re getting in the way of anyone actually being able to do their job. If you hover, interfere, and dictate every detail then nothing will ever actually be achieved.

Instead, trust the people that you employed, delegate, share the workload, and let the experts you’ve hired be experts, and do their job – so you can focus on your own.

Leadership can be a difficult process – and even the most experienced leaders recognise that their own development needs to be constantly assessed, and methods may need to change over time.