How to get your workforce to listen to you
Employee engagement: It’s one of those things that we, as communication professionals, strive for. To provide the right sort of communication that makes people listen, tune in and engage with you. We all know that effective IC has many benefits to a productive and positive organization – the question is, how do you get your workforce to listen to you?
An IC’s #1 problem
The number one aim for anyone in Internal Communications is getting their message heard by the right people. It’s a major challenge that professionals are grappling with every day. In the modern workplace, how do you cut through the noise to not only deliver information to the relevant people but to also get it understood, processed and acted upon?
Getting people to listen to you is not straightforward in the modern workplace: the complexities of large organizations, non-desk workers, remote workers and employees who sit on the fringes of communications. How do you make sure that relevant information is going to the right people?
For the average organization, a lot of time, effort and budget is spent on working out ways of reaching as many recipients as possible. How much can split testing, changing designs, different channels and scheduling timetables have on the effectiveness of your comms?
An organization needs to examine the ways you can make yourself heard through the noise of modern working. Because without an active audience reading, listening and responding to the information you’ve prepared, your IC strategy is dead in the water.
Remember, being listened to isn’t just about being heard. People may see you and your message – they may even nod along – but are they actually listening to you?
To listen implies to understand, to consciously choose to pay attention to you and your message, to find out what the communicator is really trying to tell you. And when the message is received and understood, it demonstrates that the pathways of communication from internal comms and employees are in good working order.
If you’ve sent a memo to the entire organization about security access to the office that has no received engagement, you may be wondering why. Do people not understand the importance of safety in and around the office? Are they ignoring you? Have you not been clear enough? There’s no set answer for why some comms isn’t picked up, but it’s the IC pro’s job to investigate why.
Here’s why your IC might not getting picked up
Not being listened to isn’t necessarily you or anyone else’s fault. Most of the time, as Deepak Chopra explains in his essay, Seven Reasons People Aren’t Listening to You it’s simply a communication problem. It’s worth remembering that communication is a two-way street, and when it’s not working, it’s often down to a breakdown somewhere along the connection between these two points. In a busy workplace with its distractions, diversions, and demands, this connection is prone to mishaps if not managed carefully. The reasons why IC can often fail includes:
1. Tuned out – in a lot of communication, the listener misses the initial point and interest wanes.
2. Distraction – the digital workplace offers a lot of distraction. Often when you go unheard, it’s because there’s something else that is taking their attention.
3. Overload – communication can turn into a discussion with a lot of voices. This can discourage other people from getting involved.
4. Lack of interest – is the topic of the communication relevant to that person. People will zone out when the information doesn’t appear to impact them.
5. Offense – Some topics have the potential to offend. If you’ve sent out information that has touched a nerve with the receiver, there’s a chance that you’ve lost them.
6. Timing – When the pressure’s on, deadlines are being missed, and everyone is demanding your attention, it’s no surprise that memos and emails will be ignored.
7. Pressure – If you’re piling too much stress on the communication, there’s a high chance you’ll be ignored. People don’t like feeling put upon.
What you can do to get people to listen to you
One of the main things to bear in mind as an internal communicator is to remember everyone is in a unique situation. They may be dealing with problems at home, a situation at work, they could be busy, absent, or trying to meet a deadline. And if they don’t respond accordingly, it just means that you have to change tact.
Some of the ways you can alter your communications can include the following:
Cut to the chase: People have short attention spans. They’re busy. They are working to a tight deadline. When you’re delivering a message, get to the point. People don’t have the time to wait for the denouement, so be succinct, concise and remember that brevity is key.
Choose your medium: There are lots of communication channels out there to choose from. Make sure you put thought into not just why and when, but also, how you’re communicating your message.
Don’t carpet bomb: At the same time, there is little point in using all channels to communicate the same message. Employees will soon disengage from communications if they’re receiving the same message twice, three or more times.
Use emails sparingly: Emails are outdated, outmoded and outpaced by other media. If you’re using email as a form of communication, you’re ignoring non-desk workers, you’re placing a blockade on feedback, and you’re forgetting how rich media can support your message. They still have a place in the digital workplace, but internal communications isn’t it.
Of course, there are times when internal communication is done directly. Whether it’s you doing the talking, or you’re providing the materials to feed to a manager, speaking face-to-face with your employees is often overlooked as a medium. As one of the most effective ways of getting an idea across, it’s important that it’s delivered well. Some of the ways you can speak to your workforce and get listened to includes:
1. Listen more. Yes, if you want to be listened to, you need to listen up! By listening to your audience, you get a much keener idea of what their needs are which allows you to tailor your information accordingly. This can also include reading body language and getting a feel of non-verbal cues.
2. Talk less about you. It’s so easy to share your experiences and stories when you’re communicating a message or in a conversation with someone. However, when you turn the attention to you, people’s engagement can drop off. Your story may be important to you, but to your workforce, it carries less relevance. When you want to be listened to, don’t steer the conversation on you.
3. Eye contact. The devil is in the detail, and a small thing like eye contact can make a world of difference. When you’re making eye contact, you’re paying people attention. You only have to see someone scanning their phone or gazing around the room while ‘in conversation’ to see why eye contact is so important. It implies focus, attention, and concentration. Using eye contact makes your colleague feel recognized, validated and understood.
4. Silence is OK. Speakers often think they have to plug the gaps, but silences can actually provide powerful pauses where the listener thinks over what has been said and allows you the time to craft your next sentence. Silence is are especially powerful when
5. Believe in your words. While you might not feel it, you can definitely help build confidence in yourself when speaking. And when you’re confident, people want to listen to you. Believe in the words you are speaking, and you become more engaging. There’s more passion in your voice, your eye contact increases, and confidence rises.
Can listening better help?
Of course, we can’t expect to be listened to without knowing how to listen. Being able to listen – in its truest sense – impacts how we communicate. The more we tune in to what our staff are saying, the better our interactions are. To understand what it is to listen, it’s a good idea to recognize the four main listening styles:
- Appreciative listening
Listening to a podcast, playing music, being told a story – this is appreciative listening, and to truly benefit from it, the American Society for Training and Development recommends that you should avoid engaging in other communications and focus solely on the sounds and words.
Which means, in order to enjoy appreciative listening effectively – put down your phone, close your screen and pay attention.
2. Critical listening
Think of a time when you had a discussion with someone with a conflicting opinion to yours. When you were listening to what they were saying, you were also identifying key points, contradicting statements and any information to back up your argument.
This is critical listening and is a form of listening that analyses what the person is saying to determine their agenda.
3. Relationship listening
Relationship listening is the empathetic style that usually occurs when helping someone with a problem, resolving conflict between people and allowing people to open up.
This type of listening is hugely important when you’re working with people and encourages people to speak more candidly and honestly about it.
4. Discriminative listening
Listening is more than just taking in words. Discriminative listening is being able to detect underlying ‘tells’ – a change in tone, hesitation, or body language signals to reveal how the speaker really feels.
This is more easily done on the phone, but as more and more communication is done remotely, we need to be able to hone this skill when we can’t see the person, when online and over the phone.
Why is listening so important?
When you’re sending out important company information to your organization, and it falls on deaf ears, the IC department will be the first people to be blamed. You will be accused of not defining your message enough, not sending it to the right people, not doing your job correctly. As we’ve discussed in the examples above, the transaction between the information giver and receiver has many potential weak points, and any fault needs to be examined. In most cases, it’s simply a case of listening.
So, to be effective at work, you not only have to be listened, you need to listen too. When no listening takes place, serious problems follow down the line. Information that isn’t taken in and understood can result in misunderstandings, missed opportunities and resentments.
Simon Sinek in his book ‘Start with Why’ explains the main benefit of listening: “Good listeners have a huge advantage. For one, when they engage in conversation, they make people ‘feel’ heard. They ‘feel’ that someone really understands their wants, needs, and desires. And for a good reason; a good listener does care to understand.”
How software can be your ear to the ground
Unsurprisingly, the intranet remains the central hub for internal communications. It’s this centralized digital workspace that provides the tools for IC professionals to focus on their output. The intranet allows you both to listen to your workforce, and as a result, be listened to. An intelligent intranet has many facets that will enable you to be tuned in to the mood, thoughts, and opinions of the workforce, and these include:
Pulse surveys – These short, specific and concise surveys give you frequent, timely feedback. Pulse surveys also allow the employee to put their opinion across on organization changes, company news and how practical the training provided is. You can use one question or ten, and the data will give an insight into the thoughts, feelings, engagement, and understanding of the employee.
Forums – asking questions, discussions, even healthy debate (as we’ve learned in Why We Must Welcome Conflict in the Workplace, approaching differing ideas is a brilliant way of practicing listening), forums provide an easy place to get people to share their thoughts. IC can use these areas to tune in to the general mood regarding various themes.
Intranet Analytics – see how well your intranet is performing and identify areas that need work. This allows you to gain deeper insights into your organization and could uncover problems and frustrations for the IC department to address.
In the words of Jack Shaw in Training in the Art of Listening, “Know your audience, know your subject and know yourself… Listening affects all three. We need to be aware of our audience and their ability or inability to listen to us and look for the signs. We won’t know our subject very well if we didn’t listen in preparing our presentation. And, if we know ourselves, we will feel, sense, see the signals and listen beyond the words.
When you’ve listened to your employees, have belief in the words you are speaking and know your abilities to convey your subject – being listened to is the undeniable upshot. Using the tools of your digital workplace, the knowledge of senior managers and tapping into the opinions of your staff will ensure your communications, regardless of the topic, will be listened to by the people that need to hear your message.