Poor communication skills can be the result of a range of issues, from unfamiliarity with business communication to disengagement from the job. Helping employees who do not communicate well rests on determining why it has been such an issue for them — or you. Once you do determine a cause, you can steer the employee toward methods that make communication easier, including sending the employee to a presentation training class, if needed. However, you’re not going to be able to make any progress until you get to the heart of the matter.
Check All Levels of the Organisation
Your first task is to determine if it’s really the employee who has a problem, or if the employee is mimicking what others in the company do. Look at how everyone from senior management down to the receptionist communicate. If there is a pattern of employees using words larger than needed or phrasing more complicated than needed, your struggling employee may merely be trying to play along. It’s entirely different if communication across all levels is efficient but the employee does not want to communicate.
The employee may also be dealing with duelling instructions. If managers are contradicting each other, the employee would be caught in the middle and likely unable to communicate well with anyone in that contradiction loop because of uncertainty.
They Never Learned
Sometimes poor communication skills are simply that — a lack of instruction in how to communicate, particularly in a business environment. This is one of the easier reasons to deal with as it can be changed. Sending the employee to a business writing seminar, for example, or to a presentation training course is an excellent way to train the employee in effective business communication.
Is It Them or Is It You?
One potential cause is that you might be misinterpreting the employee’s habits as struggling when they are not that bad in reality. Maybe the employee uses words that wouldn’t have been your personal first choice (such as using individual instead of person); while the employee may have a different style of communication, he or she doesn’t appear to really have a problem communicating. Be sure that the struggle you are observing is real, and not simply a matter of encountering new communication styles.
Another potential issue is feedback style. It’s possible the employee appears to be struggling because the only way to provide you with feedback or to ask questions is in a way with which the employee does not work well. An introverted employee may appear quiet and hesitant in whole-office meetings yet could turn into a talkative, sharp commentator if given the chance to meet you one on one. If you suspect this could be what is causing the appearance of a struggle to communicate, ask the employee — either in a private meeting or through email — if the options for providing feedback and questions are working out for the employee.
Let him or her know that you’d like to hear more of what that employee has to say and want to know the employee’s preferred mode of communication, as the employee appears to not be using current ones. If your company tends to have large meetings to get everyone together, consider holding smaller group meetings or those one-to-one talks as a way to increase participation.
A sad but real condition of the modern workplace is that some employees are not engaged with their jobs. They are bored or distressed, either about the work or something in their personal lives. This leads to a lack of communication and a disinterest in duties. This is a difficult situation to address because you might not be able to do anything about it.
However, it is still worth it to try. Meet with the employee, and let him or her know everything is fine and you only have a few questions. Assure the employee that any feedback will be kept confidential (and honour that — this should be a safe conversation for the employee). Ask if the job seems challenging enough, or if the employee feels held back. Let him or her know that you have realised the employee seems a bit disengaged from the work and would like to know if this is a result of the job. If it turns out that the employee is dealing with personal issues, you may want the human resources department to weigh in regarding job modifications or employee counselling programs if the employee finds that agreeable.
Addressing poor communication skills and struggles to get a point across should be viewed as a process and approached methodically. If you can determine what underlies the employee’s communication ability, you’ll be able to either remedy the situation or at least gain a better understanding of why the employee communicates in such a manner. That, in turn, will help overall communication run more smoothly.