Five ways to communicate well and build trust with your employees following COVID-19

Julie Hyde-communication

Source: supplied.

Sometimes I don’t feel like doing what I need to do. Today, I didn’t feel like doing a lot of things — starting with getting out of bed! I could’ve quite easily stayed in bed, pulled the doona up over my head and gone back to sleep for the day. Do you ever feel the same way?

It’s week two of yet another lockdown for me due to a COVID outbreak in Victoria and I can tell you the frustration is growing. After more than 150 days of lockdown last year and this being the second one of 2021, my resilience feels like it’s waning at a time it should be building. I am just simply over it! I also know that I am certainly not alone.

Depending on whom I talk to the frustration is different but it’s certainly the common theme. This is life right now and it’s something that we as leaders need to get really good at managing because your employees are feeling the exact same way. 

Of course, it’s not only lockdown that people are effected by; it’s life in general. Stuff happens that is unplanned and unwelcomed and it impacts on people’s lives, how they feel and ultimately how they perform. However, as a result of COVID-19 disrupting how we work and live last year and with the two melding together, managing the employees life experience is a trend that leaders need to be on top of as we move forward.

It’s become clear that supporting employees in their personal lives more effectively enables employees to not only have better lives, but also to perform at a higher level. According to Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey, there is a real benefit to the employers that do this. Those that do, see a 21% increase in the number of high performers compared to organisations that don’t provide the same degree of support to their employees.

It makes sense right? But with all the competing demands, how do leaders do this and do it well?

Holistic communication

There are organisations that do this really well and have done so before the pandemic hit, then there are those that lag for various reasons.

One thing we need to unite on as leaders is the understanding that your people are the power in your business — not the number on your balance sheet — and they are the key factor in determining your success. Therefore, your ‘people activities/actions’ need to be high on the priority list. I recommend part of your top three.

The only way you are going to understand how to manage each individual within your team is if you know them well, which comes back to how you are communicating with them. Gone are the days of having conversations around performance only, you need to be building a holistic communication strategy with each of your team members that invites deep conversation. 

Then of course, how rich the communication is comes back to the level of trust they have in you. For people to trust that they can share how they are really feeling, what they find challenging and what they need support with, without fear of ramification is dependent on the level of trust they have in you.

This is challenging leaders to adopt a new style of communication and one that is interchangeable depending on the situation of the moment. 

Here are five tips to improve communication and build trust:

  1. The first thing people are looking for from you is vulnerability. This enables them to also be vulnerable and open up. Be open and share with your team how you are feeling and what you struggle with.
  2. Listen. Be present in the conversation. Remove distractions and listen to what is being said and what is not being said. Often the latter is where your gold is.
  3. Be curious and ask questions. Don’t assume the other person feels the same as you or is affected in the same way as someone else. Ask questions to explore how they are feeling and how they need to be supported.
  4. Show empathy; acknowledge and validate how they are feeling despite whether you agree with it or not. You can’t argue with how someone is feeling. How they feel is how they feel. The question is how do you navigate it?
  5. Work out a plan together to support them. Your team will all be at different stages in their life and in what they need. So this isn’t always about supporting them through a crisis or difficult times. It’s about enabling them to be the best they can be in the moment and going forward. This may be adjusting expectations, challenging them to step up, checking in on them regularly, directing them to an employee assistance program, helpline or similar. They key is knowing when to pull a lever and when to pull on the handbrake. You will only know that by having a deep understanding of each member of your team.

The way we need to lead and manage has certainly changed and the playing field for leaders is a very different one. To remain relevant and to enable high performance, leaders need to be adjusting their style to suit the evolving needs of their team in a constantly changing environment. There is no one style fits all any more. A leaders style needs to be flexible and adaptable and multiple styles may need to worn on any given day. You never know, it could also include your PJ’s! 

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