Communication Methods, and Why It’s Important to Being a Good Manager

I’ve been reading a pretty good book lately, it’s the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.  It’s a really good book, not dry or textbook-y at all. Mr. Carnegie keeps the reader engaged with lots of anecdotes and stories about real life people.  I highly encourage this book for anyone, but in particular for managers.

You see, many people (I believe) think the purpose of this book is for sales, or maybe more simply, for making friends.  But really the book is more than that, it’s about how to communicate with people effectively. It’s about how to be able to get your points across, submit information to other people and have them actually hear and understand it.  Perhaps most significantly, it’s about how to motivate people and encourage them to act upon your direction and guidance.

For a manager, this is perhaps one of the key things about your entire job.  After all, it’s your job to MANAGE work, which means assigning and directing tasks, ensuring those tasks are getting done, and keeping all the various work tasks in sync with each other.  Key to all that is getting people to actually work on the correct tasks and in the correct order, with the correct priority. It sounds easy but actually when it comes to knowledge workers and engineers, this can be extremely challenging.

The Project Management Institute estimates that 90% of a manager’s job is simply communication.  Any way you look at it, communication is key to a manager. Building on the points above, the way that you assign tasks and keep people motivated and encouraged is all about how to communicate with them.

Getting back to How to Win Friends and Influence People, there are a couple of lessons in this book that a very relevant with the adaptive management communication style.

  • Adjusting your communication style to who you are talking do

One important facet of leadership that I’ve learned is what’s called adaptive management.  This is the idea that every person is different and thus requires a different communication style to work with them.  You ever notice how some people, all you have to do is give a brief word in the hallway and they understand exactly what you mean and can go do precisely what is needed?  Meanwhile, there’s other people who you have to build out a document with very specific lists of tasks, goals, acceptance criteria, constraints, and timelines, and even then they seem to struggle with understanding what it is they should be doing.

  • Letting other people talk and feel important

As a manager, this serves an important purpose.  Primarily it’s the concept that your technical staff is knowledgeable in the domain that their tasks are in and thus it’s important to get constant feedback to ensure that the tasks and work efforts are technically valid.  You as a manager might be skilled and experienced in what is being worked on but you still should be willing to accept valid feedback and ideas on how the work should be done.

  • Listen, let’s the other person knows you care

However, eventually, as a leader you have to make decisions.  You can accept all the feedback but there comes a point where a particular path has to be chosen and you as the leader need to guide and shape the narrative towards that path.  By having back-and-forth dialog with people you can show them that you value their opinion, and thus their worth. Over time this is what can build trust with your team, so that when you present a specific vision and roadmap, and encourage people to move in that direction, that trust is there and they will move with you in that direction, together as a team.

People are different and unique, and when combined into a team their strengths and weaknesses can complement each other to create a strong capability.  But it can be a huge challenge to manage such a team. Learning how to communicate effectively with all different types of people can help guide you, as a manager, to success with leading a team to greatness.

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