Managers succeed only when they and their employees agree on their goals and the appropriate methods for reaching them. This requires constant communication among the parties. But communication isn’t as simple as talking to one another.

Too often discussions turn into a speech contest where people are just waiting for a chance to say their piece. Worse, managers may end up projecting their own meaning onto what someone says, instead of digging deeper to understand their meaning. That’s the number-one reason why miscommunication occurs between employers and employees.

So what can managers do to ensure crystal-clear communication between themselves and employees?

The four steps
Let’s see how a simple 4-step method – the FACE method – can help managers find out exactly what employees are saying.

1. The first step is F, for Focus.

One of the greatest barriers to understanding is distraction. Distracted talkers and distracted listeners. Most managers understand that. It’s why they set aside specific times to check in with their people and meet away from the office.

But Focus involves more than clearing away surface distractions. It requires a commitment to understanding every message a person is sending, and a keen curiosity about what she really means. It means setting aside your own judgments, thoughts and preconceptions and absorbing what the other person is saying.

2. The second element of the FACE method is A: Acknowledge what your employee is saying.

Don’t judge or interpret; simply let employees know they were heard. For example, saying things like “I see… I understand… That’s good to know…” express that you’ve heard the employee, that his comment has merit, and that you appreciate her sharing important information.

Acknowledging softens the nature of the exchange and keeps it from becoming adversarial or confrontational. It encourages people to open up. And it sets the stage for the next step:

3. Which is, C: Clarify.

Eliminate any doubt or ambiguity about what you’re hearing. Respond by asking “When you say that, what exactly do you mean?” Now, based on what employees say, you may find yourself going through the F-A-C loop several times until you’ve reached the heart of what people are trying to say.

4. Once you’re certain that you’ve gotten to the bottom of an employee’s concern, you can move on to the final step of the FACE method: E for Explain.

Calmly, firmly and rationally, share your point of view. There’s no argument and no defensiveness. It might sound like:

“I want everyone to know I take their concerns about this new process seriously. I’ll make it a point to address those concerns as we move forward.”

Rinse and repeat
You and your employee(s) might have to go through these steps several times before achieving complete and mutual understanding. That’s part of the process.

But once all is said and done, the understanding and expectations of the manager and each employee should be perfectly aligned – or at least heading in that direction. And isn’t that what every manager wants?

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