5 Leadership Communication Skills to Teach New Managers

Making someone a manager may feel like you’re waving a magic wand and turning them into a leader, but that’s not exactly how it works.

Getting a new title (or in Cinderella’s case, a new wardrobe) doesn’t automatically grant great communication skills (such as telling the prince your name before leaving the ball).

New managers need a leader, not a fairy godmother. It’s up to you to teach them the leadership communication skills they’ll need to build strong working relationships.

So, before your recently promoted managers start scheduling one-on-one meetings with their team, make sure they know how to use these five communication skills.

1. Use Inclusive Language

New managers need to quickly become more responsible and thoughtful with their language use. But you can’t just tell them to “use inclusive language” and assume they’ll know what that means or how to do it.

Being inclusive isn’t just about using gender-neutral language and preferred pronouns — though both are important. It’s also about respecting differences without making people feel excluded.

Work jargon, acronyms, and idioms slip into conversations every day. If new managers have been working with their teams for awhile, that might not be a problem. But when leadership uses unfamiliar buzzwords with new hires or people from other departments, it can make them feel like they aren’t part of the team.

For example, “I’d like to see you grab the bull by the horns for this project. Bring some updates on KPIs to the next stand-up.”

For people from other cultures, unexplained idioms can be extremely confusing. And, when people hear unfamiliar work terms, such as KPIs and stand-up, they feel self-conscious about their abilities. This is not to say that they can’t use shorthand or sayings — just make sure you teach your managers to be mindful. When it doubt, spell it out.

Another way for new managers to be more inclusive is to use people-first language. Buffer’s inclusive language guide explains that people-first language focuses on the person, not on a specific characteristic. For example, instead of saying “female accountant,” managers should say “a woman from the accounting department.”

Of course, it’s equally important to teach managers to question the need to mention characteristics at all. Did we really need to know that the accountant is female? Probably not. Make sure your managers know to ask themselves “is this really relevant?” before tacking on a descriptor.

Take a look at this example:Relevant: “Make sure the video has captions for our teammates who are deaf or hearing-impaired.”

Not relevant: “A female accountant will be joining our meeting today to talk about the budget.” (Bonus points if you noticed that this sentence also failed to use people-first language)

How to Teach New Managers About Inclusive Language

Here are a few ways you can help new managers learn more about inclusivity:

Navigating the nuances of inclusive language takes time. Teach new managers to use one-on-ones to respectfully ask team members about their language preferences — and make sure managers know how to ask (and how not to).

2. Be Transparent

Recently promoted managers may feel like they have to establish their authority by drawing a hard line between them and their teammates. But who can trust someone that always seems to be hiding behind a closed door? When people don’t know what to expect, insecurities can negatively affect everything from performance to morale.

Transparency isn’t just about being straightforward during private conversations; it’s also about keeping your entire team on the same page. Leaning into open communication instead of being unnecessarily secretive builds trust in the workplace.

Ask new managers to communicate in public channels when discussing work matters. Using public threads in Slack or open conversations during meetings improves collaboration and helps prevent feelings of exclusion. If everyone talks openly, no one is worried about what’s being said when they leave the room.

Transparent communication also means embracing honesty, even when the news is bad. When the COVID-19 crisis began, we all wanted to hide under a blanket and avoid talking about it — but true leaders don’t hide from problems. Speaking openly about how a pandemic affects people and work shows your team that you are a human being, which makes it easier for them to trust you.

Leadership should practice transparency in their private meetings as well. Haven’t we all felt paralyzed by fear after hearing an unexpected “Can you step into my office?”

How to Help New Managers Embrace Transparency

Here are some things your new managers can do to be more transparent:

  • Include a detailed agenda with every meeting invite you send.
  • Discuss work responsibilities and expectations during regular one-on-ones with your team.
  • Use the BLUF strategy — start conversations with the most important details.
  • Keep work conversations in public channels whenever possible.

Remember — your management team is still looking to you for guidance, so lead by example. Transparency doesn’t always come naturally, but it’s worth putting in the effort to build leadership communication skills that inspire the entire team to speak openly and honestly.

3. Employ Empathy

New managers have to learn to prioritize their team’s personal and individual needs so that they can support them as people, not just employees. Prioritizing other’s feelings requires a shift in mindset, so it’s important for you to teach new managers how to incorporate empathy into their management approach.

While 96% of employees believe it’s important for their employers to be empathetic, only 8% think empathy is properly valued in their workplace. Clearly, leadership has some work to do. Not only does empathy prevent disengaged employees, but it also minimizes turnover — 90% of employees are more likely to stay with an organization that empathizes with their needs.

Not all leadership communication skills are about talking. The best way to communicate with empathy is to become a better listener. Managers have to do more than simply avoid interrupting people; they have to show that they truly care about what others have to say.

How to Guide New Managers Towards Empathetic Communication

Train your new managers by modeling leadership communication skills that promote active listening:

  • Avoid multitasking and instead focus on listening intently.
  • Respond by summarizing the person’s main points, so you can clarify what they are saying.
  • Ask follow-up questions to encourage the person to keep driving the conversation.

Start by simply modeling this behavior, then introduce new managers to these strategies. For example, before you ask follow-up questions, explain your reasoning: “I’d like to hear more of your ideas for this project, so I’m going to ask some follow-up questions to inspire you to keep talking and sharing your thoughts.”

Will it feel a little cheesy? Yes. But it will also make these strategies stick in the minds of new managers. After you model the active listening skills, your managers can take a step back and consider how it made them feel to have someone truly listen to them.

Lastly, be sure new managers know to note any specific communication preferences their team members may have. While one person may feel confident sharing opinions in a meeting, another might prefer to present ideas privately.

4. Communicate Asynchronously

New managers are often eager to make sure their team is performing and reflecting well on them. Unfortunately, if managers are constantly communicating and expecting instant responses, it can lead to a micromanagement problem. The solution is for them to get comfortable with asynchronous communication.

Asynchronous communication is any conversation that doesn’t require real-time responses — like that group text you mute while you’re at work. You’re not ignoring your friends — you’re just setting aside time to focus.

Not everything requires synchronous (real time) communication. It might even be counterproductive. Imagine if every time a friend texted you, they couldn’t get anything done until you texted them back. That would not only destroy your friend’s productivity but would also pressure you into keeping your phone in your hand at all times.

But, for some reason, that’s the communication style so many companies hold onto. Employees spend an average of10 hours a day on Slack, glued to their computers in fear of missing a message. All of those notifications and interruptions add up — it takes an average of 25 minutes for people to get back on track after an interruption.

Protect your team’s time (and sanity) by promoting asynchronous communication. You can lead by example by turning on “do not disturb” mode and blocking off time so they can focus on a specific task. If you don’t expect immediate responses to messages, new managers (and the rest of the team) won’t feel pressured to provide them. Removing the expectation of 24/7 availability shows your team that you trust them to get work done without constant communication.

How to Promote Asynchronous Communication

Using asynchronous communication with your new managers is the best way to show them why and how it works.

  • Encourage time blocking — marking off time for focusing on specific tasks.
  • Use shared documents to collaborate on projects instead of working together in real-time.
  • Record meetings and share them with team members who could not attend live.

When people aren’t busy responding to messages, they have time for deep work — those magical hours when creativity flows and to-do lists get finished.

5. Give Continuous Feedback

We’ve written about the importance of real-time feedback before. But here’s the TL;DR: employees want ongoing feedback, but managers aren’t great at keeping up with it. Get ahead of the issue by teaching recently promoted managers to coach and advise their teams on a regular basis.

Continuous feedback is a powerful leadership communication skill. Reserving feedback for annual performance reviews just creates unnecessary anxiety because your team has no idea how well (or not) they are doing at work. Frequent check-ins give your team members a chance to be heard, appreciated, and mentored on an ongoing basis. Your team can focus on making small improvements every day instead of waiting for a list of critiques and goals to be dumped in their lap once a year.

How to Facilitate Continuous Feedback

Here are a few ways you can help new managers provide continuous feedback:

  • Create spaces to share praise publicly, such as a Slack channel or a shared document where managers and teammates can celebrate wins together.
  • Ask new managers to schedule one-on-one meetings with each team member at least twice a month.
  • Regularly coach your managers on how to make the most of one-on-one check-ins.

Regularly scheduled one-on-ones help the entire company. Setting aside 30 minutes twice a month gives leadership a chance to catch potential issues or opportunities earlier on. And because managers spend more time with each team member, it’s easier for them to get to know the people behind the work.

Track Your Managers’ Leadership Communication Skills

Keep in mind that leadership communication skills are not something you or your managers check off a to-do list. These strategies require continuous work. With a free Uptick account, you can hold yourself and your managers accountable and work together to improve communication among your team.

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