To effectively communicate we must realise that we are all different in the ways in which we perceive the world and use this understanding to guide our our communication with others. This is fundamental to create the awareness that you need as a leader.
Many of us have experienced, or are currently experiencing, mental health issues caused by the huge amounts of uncertainty we’ve all been facing for a while now. It is therefore paramount that we as clinic and business owners rise to this and embrace that we are the leaders that many of our staff will be looking towards for guidance in these times. Discussing this with fellow clinic-owner clients of mine, I’ve had a few responses along the lines of:
“Why me? I have my own problems to deal with! I am trying to keep the business running through this!”
The problem with this attitude is not realising that by keeping up effective communication with staff, they are far more likely to support you, return to work efficiently and not look for other employment in more stable sectors. I even know of cases of staff taking pay cuts collectively to allow for the retention of other employees that otherwise may need to be let go. Where possible, try to put yourself in your employees’ position. While it may be easy to think of furloughed staff as just sitting at home and still earning money without doing any work, keep in mind that they don’t know the condition of the business and are quite probably worrying that they may not have a job or source of income in the not-too-distant future.
If, like me, you were raised to understand that you have two ears and one mouth to listen twice as much as you speak, you may have missed the fact that we actually have four communication skills. In order to start better communicating with your staff, first consider their individual communication styles and how they each perceive the world and their position in the future. If you don’t know, simply ask. A great way to pose this question initially is in a group; collect your staff together on a video call. Being able to actually see each other helps to overcome the non-verbal signs of communication as best we can within current guidelines – this allows the more dominant characters to lead the conversation and in turn, hopefully create the confidence for the quieter members of the team to speak. Even if they don’t, it will at least start the thought process and you can reach out individually to those employees afterwards.
Listen and take on board what staff tell you during this call and at other times when they air their concerns, and don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” if they’re looking for answers. It is far better to say that you’re not certain at this stage but that you will look into the issue and report back, than to try to fluff over something and break that trust.
Consider how you speak to your staff; think about the language you use and how it may be perceived. I have worked in some very intense environments and situations and cannot stress enough the importance of taking your time to use the correct language.
I was once teaching someone to fly a plane. I instructed him to “push” the controls forward and nearly ended up buried in the ground, because the word “push” could be perceived as ambiguous by some, as the degree or strength of which to “push” is open to the other person’s perception.
The words you use are powerful. Can you replace “if we” with “when we”, “we could” with “we will”, etc.? A few very small tweaks in how you say what you say (so long as you’re still being truthful) creates a far more definitive and stronger position and a more positive future outlook. Also, note the use of “we” rather than “I” and “you”. “We” creates a sense of a team mentality, that we are in this together and united rather than segregated.
Be careful with the language you use to talk about your job. Highlighting positive instances and interactions helps to form your ideal workplace and the team you want to share it with.
Obviously, body language plays a huge part in how we communicate, and it stands to reason that we often now use video wherever possible to communicate instead of a phone call. So, using some of the less common methods of communication can come across as thoughtful gestures that will go a long way to show your staff that you care about keeping your communication with them open and positive. A simple card or letter in the post will reassure them that you’ve been thinking of your employees and appreciate the level of support they’ve shown the business. It’s a small gesture that will make a big impact for very little effort.
WHAT TO SAY
What to tell your team will be very personal. Many of us will have various things we are happy to share and likewise, things we are not. My personal take is to share as much as possible in a way that demonstrates a sense of future and security. For example, letting staff know that you’re investing in new equipment, have signed a lease extension on your premises, or even if you have simply booked a course or been on some online training. These things show that you’re still passionate about investing in the business.
Discuss with your team the areas that you may have had time to reflect upon; how you see the future and any new ideas you’ve had. Wherever possible, ask them to contribute and share their feedback to further harness the “in it together” attitude. Likewise, ask if they’ve had any of their own ideas to help the business and each other.
Finally, be the one to set the example of how you wish your staff to think about the business and communicate with you, their colleagues and their patients.
Phil Elder is a multiple business owner. His portfolio includes Neos Clinic, an aesthetic clinic in Ipswich, accountancy practice RSZ Accountancy and a finance company. Blogs, videos and other resources on business efficiency, structuring a company, tax savings and more can be found on Phil’s website: philipelder.uk