Tips for Communicating with Colleagues and Employees

Sep 29 / RICHARD G. JONES, JR., PH.D.
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Hello communication leaders! This is the second blog post in a series we are doing over the next few weeks on how to communicate more effectively in business settings.  

First up, we are going to focus on speaking to colleagues.

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Communicating Effectively with Colleagues

Horizontal Communication:
Communication between colleagues or people who are on the same approximate level in the organizational hierarchy.
Much of our day-to-day communication in business settings is horizontal communication with our colleagues or people who are on the same approximate level in the organizational hierarchy.
This communication may occur between colleagues working in the same area or between colleagues with different areas of expertise. Such horizontal communication usually functions to help people coordinate tasks, solve problems, and share information.  
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When effective, horizontal communication can lead to more cooperation among employees and a greater understanding of the “big picture” or larger function of an organization.  

When horizontal communication is not effective, it can lead to territoriality, rivalry, and miscommunication when speaking across knowledge and task areas that require specialization. 
Many colleagues work collaboratively to share ideas and accomplish tasks. In a sharing environment, it can be easy to forget where an idea started. This becomes an issue when it comes time for credit or recognition to be given. Make sure to give credit to people who worked with you on a project or an idea. If you can’t remember where an idea came from, it may be better to note that it was a “group effort” than to take sole credit for it and risk alienating a colleague. 

Communicating Effectively with Supervisees/Employees

Downward communication includes messages directed at audience members who hold a lower place on the organizational hierarchy than the sender. As a supervisor, you will also have to speak to people whom you manage or employ.   
Downward Communication:
Messages directed at listeners who hold lower positions on the organizational hierarchy than the sender.
Downward communication usually involves job instructions, explanations of organizational policies, providing feedback, and welcoming newcomers to an organization. 

This type of communication can have positive results in terms of preventing or correcting employee errors and increasing job satisfaction and morale. If the communication is not effective, it can lead to unclear messages that lead to misunderstandings and mistakes 
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During this type of “top-down” communication, employees may not ask valuable questions. So, it is important to create an open atmosphere that encourages questions. Even though including an open discussion after a presentation takes more time, it helps prevent avoidable mistakes and wasted time and money. Let your audience know before a presentation that you will take questions, and then officially open the floor to questions when you are ready.  
A good supervisor should:  
  • Keep his or her employees informed 
  • Provide constructive feedback 
  • Explain the decisions and policies of the organization 
  • Be honest about challenges and problems, and facilitate the flow of information.  

Information Flow is Key for Effective Communication

Information should flow to and away from supervisors. Supervisors help set the tone for the communication climate of an organization, so it is important that they model and live up to the expectations for oral communication that they have set for others. Being prepared, consistent, open, and engaging helps sustain communication, which helps sustain morale. Supervisors also send messages, intentional or unintentional, based on where they deliver their presentations. For example, making people come to the executive conference room may be convenient for the boss but intimidating for other workers.