Communicating with Today’s Workforce
Bill Cottringer

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said.” ~Peter F. Drucker.

In managing a wide variety of workforces for nearly six decades now—private and public settings and large and small organizations and everywhere in between—I have seen communication between employers and employees going from easy to difficult to virtually impossible. Here are a few of the most notable minefields that employers need to lead the way through to improve communication with employees, so that they can in turn improve communication with employers.

1. Balance.

We are currently woefully out of balance in just about everything, everywhere. This is especially true in the area of employer-employee relations. We have gone from one extreme of employer’s dominating employees with a one-way communication process to the other extreme of employees using one-way communication with their employers. The workplace is becoming less productive than it needs to be and the only solution is to restore some balance with two-way communication between employees and employers, with better listening and less talking. Two-eared listening captures the meaning of the most important half of Peter Drucker’s quote above

2. Compromise.

Compromise is a dirty word for both employers and employees, but for all the wrong reasons. Compromising is seen as a weakness in giving in to the interests of others, rather than as a creative solution, as it really is, to complex conflicts and virtually unsolvable problems. Cooperation in compromising is the only means to get win-win outcomes instead of allowing the traditional competitive, win-lose mentality to stall progress in getting through conflicts and overcoming problems. Coming up with sensible compromises is often contagious.

3. Communication Termites.

Assumptions, beliefs, values, perceptions and expectations can all make difficult communication much harder. The amount of information we are all dealing with today, demands that we take shortcuts in making reasonable assumptions, forming accurate perceptions and true beliefs, and having fair expectations. To make matters worse, the audience in the workforce is changing radically and consequently these termites are on steroids, requiring employers to go past the point of no return in trying to reinvent the way they communicate with employees and accept behavior they would prefer not to.

4. Defensiveness.

Normally defensiveness is prompted by certain approaches one person takes with another. Implying things like superiority, judgment, and control—when we all want equality, acceptance, and freedom—will almost always make the other person defensive and end up shutting down communication from two-way to no-way. Additionally, today we probably have more dishonest defensiveness going on in the workplace. This is ego and pride-driven, where people argue the loudest and meanest about things which they know the least about, such as the motivations behind their own wrong-doing that is not even seen as wrong-doing. This kind of defensiveness requires a whole new style of communication to understand and eventually correct.

5. Two Ears, One Mouth.

The radically changing workforce and the communication difficulties with employers and employees require an application of the old carpenter’s rule of measure twice and saw once. In improving communication, employers should take the lead by listening two times for any one thing they say, so that employees can also learn this valuable rule of communication. And the quality of listening must shift from merely listening in order to plan a clever response, to careful listening to truly understand and empathize with the other person to learn how we have all fallen prey to these communication obstacles. Two-eared listening is a good way to understand what is being said or not being said, in order to give a complete response, but only when needed. At time silence can be golden when used strategically.

6. Smiling

Al Capone’s famous saying is apropos here. He said, “You can get further with a smile and a gun, than you can with a gun alone. Smiling usually doesn’t occur in the more unpleasant discussions, but maybe the smiling would help turn the corner from being unpleasant to pleasant. When you smile, your feel better and when you feel better you communicate better. The next time you are in a fierce argument, try pausing and smiling to start your next reply. Also, pay attention to your own body language and facial gestures to inadvertently avoid creating a defensive climate.

7. Feedback.

Improving today’s poor communication between employers and employees, can’t happen without both parties seeking, giving and taking helpful feedback about how well or how poorly they are communicating. There are two main communication concerns here that require honest and accurate feedback—clear and thorough understanding and positive impact. A good starting point is for employers to seek feedback from their peers and employees to do the same.

The success of employers and employees in today’s workplace requires a drastic improvement in the communication process. At the end of the day, we all know how to do this, and it is mostly a matter of practicing what we already know consistently under challenging. But let me leave you with an important caveat. We are all moving to unfamiliar, uncharted waters without a map and what got us here won’t necessarily get us there. The key may be for us to develop our own creative solutions to these seven communication obstacles. The whole wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented, just tweaked a little with our own unique fingerprints.

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” ~Anthony Robbins.


Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA, along with being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living on the scenic Snoqualmie River and mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, Re-Braining for 2000 (MJR Publishing); The Prosperity Zone (Authorlink Press); You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too (Executive Excellence); The Bow-Wow Secrets (Wisdom Tree); Do What Matters Most and “P” Point Management (Atlantic Book Publishers); Reality Repair, (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Publish America); Thoughts on Happiness; Pearls of Wisdom: A Dog’s Tale (Covenant Books, Inc.) Coming soon: A Cliché a day will keep the Vet Away (Another Dog’s Tale). Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 652-8067 or