Earlier this year, Entrepreneur Magazine came out with an article saying that the fastest way to be tagged as a bad manager is to have poor communications skills. There are many ways to show you have a problem with communications. Have you ever found yourself saying (or thinking) these words:

“Just listen and follow.”

“It’s my job to think and your job to obey me.”

The top communication problem in the workplace today is the inability to listen – and listen actively. Managers who talk over their subordinates, refuse to listen to them, fail to ask questions, and cannot be relied on to communicate messages consistently and in a manner that can be understood by all are bound to fail at their jobs.

A quick checklist of the most common communication errors of middle and top managers are:

  • Not listening to others
  • Making assumptions, jumping to conclusions
  • Using jargon others cannot understand
  • Speaking over others
  • Rambling and using filler words like uh, um, like, okay
  • Poor preparation before speaking leading to poor organization of thoughts and a confusing message
  • Weak vocabulary

All these communication issues can be fixed – should be fixed – because allowing the communication errors to continue will eventually land a manager in trouble. The chances for you as the manager to ascend up the corporate ladder would be halted as your communications skills will hamper your effectiveness as a leader. You will struggle to inspire, encourage, mentor, delegate, and direct your staff even with the best intentions at heart. The result is a disenchanted team composed of members who do not understand your plans and instructions leading to poor productivity, missed opportunities, and disappointment.

According to an article in June 2015 of the Harvard Business Review, 91% of the 1,000 employees polled said that it is poor communication that brings down the leader. Sadly, when employees decide that their leader is not up to their rigid leadership standards, they stop trying to do their best.

What to Do: 4 Top Tips for Improving Communication Skills

There are four keys to improving your communication skills.

1) understand that communications is connectivity. You need to establish a relationship between you and the people you have to talk to. To get started, you can try giving out encouraging comments like “Good!” and “Keep it up!” Look for specific ways that an employee uniquely contributes to the team and commend him on it. Just make sure that you are sincere with your words and you are not saying them emptily. If you have nothing encouraging to say, simply say, “Thank you” or greet them daily by their names. You should also make it a point to give your team time and opportunity to contribute their ideas. Asking them “What do you think?” is one way to show that you are willing to listen to their opinions.

Also keep in mind that communication includes non-verbal expressions and movements so your actions and expressions may not jive with your words and these compromises the message.

2) communications is clear, honest exchange of ideas. As managers, you may not always be in a position to share top management decisions or reasons but you help the situation by being honest and upfront. Avoid putting a wall between you and your team. Provide them with explanations to the extent that you are allowed to reveal and in turn, your team will respect you for keeping them informed. It is always better to explain than to side with upper management and not say anything at all.

You should also be active in giving feedback rather than waiting for HR to push you to conduct a review on employee performance. It doesn’t make sense to hold back on the feedback until the annual review. It affects productivity and overall team and individual performance.

In a 2014 global survey by Success Factors posted in the Harvard Business Review, Millennials want coaching. About 50% of the 1,400 Millennials surveyed said they need feedback and feel that the feedback should come from their managers. Unfortunately, not all of them agreed that their managers were giving them enough feedback. Interestingly, they were not so interested in feedback about their output but about how they could personally improve at work.

3) good communication skills is learning to relax and show that you are not infallible. Many of our great leaders showed their human side. They were not afraid to show fear, laughter – that they are not out of reach and from a different world. According to Jutta Tobias of the Cranfield University School of Management, the business world no longer looks for the “lone ranger” or the big egos.

Experts all agree that admitting “I don’t know” dubbed as the three hardest words in English by Freaknomics 2014 podcast can be a sign of strength in a leader. It is a sentence used by highly intelligent people. It openly admits that you don’t know but you are willing to find out the answers. Of course, you don’t have to say it in three words. You can also say: “I’m not sure – let me get back to you on that.”

The opposite of these three words is pretending to know – which is a disaster waiting to happen.

4) a leader never stops working on improving his communication skills.

  1. Keep learning.
  2. Read books.
  3. Attend seminars and conferences.
  4. Take team building exercises seriously.
  5. Find someone who inspires you to be your mentor.
  6. Step out of your comfort zone and ask questions.
  7. Practice active listening.
  8. Study your mannerism. Use a video recorder to tape yourself speaking.
  9. Ask someone you trust and admire to critique your communication style.
  10. Sharpen your communications skills through individual or group coaching.

Finally, there is the issue of the undercurrents in a team – the secret rumblings that can undermine your leadership and communication skills. One way to avoid getting sideswiped by the undercurrents is to know what is going on within the team including the informal communications.

It would be a good idea to know who “manages” the back talk and find ways to get plugged in. If you are able to balance informal and formal communications without causing a ruckus, you can be called an outstanding and effective manager. This is best accomplished by making sure there are boundaries that cannot be breached. For instance, make everyone understand that the workplace is a place of business. It can be challenging if you work within a team and have established good friendships and then you are the one promoted to lead the team. To be effective in this transition, you will need to re-set the expectations. Ask them what do they expect from you as the team leader and you share what you expect from them as team members to achieve your common goals.

What will you stop doing to improve your communication skills? What will you start doing to develop further and what will you do more of to hone your communication skills?