Let’s face it: Leaders have a lot on their plates between organizational changes, new company initiatives and their day jobs. Juggling all those plates means they may push communication to the bottom of the list—especially one of the more challenging strategies: two-way communication. As a communication expert, you’re uniquely positioned to remind leaders of the value of dialogue and help them plan two-way moments.
Benefits of two-way communication
Unlike one-way communication, where information flows in one direction and often feels like a lecture (Remember Charlie Brown’s teacher? Wah! Wah! Wah!), two-way communication closes the communication loop. It’s dialogue that promotes engagement, understanding and collaboration.
Two-way communication can be simple, such as providing employees with opportunities to ask questions. As adults, we learn by asking questions that help us process ideas and understand, “What does this mean to me?”
Two-way communication really shines when employees are asked to share their thoughts, concerns and suggestions. When individuals feel heard and believe their ideas matter, engagement begins—encouraging stronger connections to their work and on an organization’s objectives. The result? Employees will feel they are partnering with leaders to drive the company’s success.
For leaders, participating in open, honest conversations with their teams helps them learn about the challenges employees face and gather ideas to inform their decision- making.
4 tactics to help leaders ramp up two-way communication
Start by considering your organization’s goals and each leader’s supporting objectives, then work with leaders to build interactive moments into their communication plans. Here are four tactics to get you started:
Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions are public forums where leaders invite employees to ask questions on the topic of their choice—a simple premise. The best AMA sessions are open and frank discussions where every question is welcomed. As some questions may require investigation and follow-up, these sessions tend to uncover future communication opportunities.
AMA sessions can be integrated into live town hall meetings, smaller team meetings or can exist asynchronously on platforms like Viva Engage (formerly Yammer) or MS Teams. Allow ample time for the conversation to play out between leaders and employees. In other words, don’t stuff an AMA session into the last five minutes of a meeting—30 minutes is the minimum.
It can be helpful to develop topics or themes to address. For example, you might start a session with, “Today we’ll cover your questions on two topics: our goals for the year and how we’re doing, and the recent launch of our new performance management program.” You can also take a free-form approach—any topic, any question. With either approach, prepare by brainstorming tough, hot-button questions that may come your way. And when employees look at you with blank stares, turn the tables. Ask them a question. For example, “What’s getting in the way of reaching our goals this year? What should we do differently?”
Coffee chats are informal conversations between a leader (or two) and a small group of employees. These chats provide an opportunity for open and candid conversations, allowing participants to ask questions, seek advice and learn from leaders’ experiences.
What’s in it for leaders? Coffee chats humanize them and make them more approachable—while helping them gain deeper insights into their organization’s culture. Ultimately, the timing and frequency of coffee chats will depend on the specific goals and needs of a group or team, but these touchpoints can be especially valuable during significant change. For example, if your organization is going through a major shift in strategy, leaders can host coffee chats to clarify expectations and gather feedback.
Feedback is the systematic process of gathering insights from employees using formal research methods (such as surveys and focus groups) or direct access (such as a designated mailbox or one-on-one conversations). It’s a valuable tool that helps leaders—and the organization overall—pinpoint emerging challenges, identify areas for improvement and assess the effectiveness of communication. While feedback should be collected regularly (Asking signals you care!), it can be especially helpful during new initiative launches, times of transition or during major milestones.
Engagement sessions are intended to involve employees in decision-making. They are typically a facilitated session hosted by a leader. The premise is simple: Ask, don’t tell. Ask employees for their ideas to reimagine a process or solve a challenge rather than telling them, “Here’s the plan.” That’s true engagement!
Of course, leaders often believe they need to have the answers. Engagement sessions require the opposite: being open to ideas and unexpected directions, while gently guiding the ship.
Encouraging employees to engage in discussions, provide feedback or share their insights is only the first step. For a culture of dialogue to thrive, employees need to see tangible outcomes that result from their contributions. By sharing actions taken based on employee input, leaders not only signal employees’ contributions are valuable, but they also foster a sense of ownership and accountability.
When leaders and employees take the time to listen and learn from each other, your organization will become a better place to work.