What is the Best Strategy for Poor Communication Between Managers?

An effective leader knows developing great communication with employees is one of the best strategies for developing and maintaining positive employee relations. Unfortunately, the managers sometimes experience a communication breakdown, causing tension and uncertainty among their employees. When that happens, employee engagement is bound to suffer. Though some creative differences may lead to innovation, you need a strategy for resolving manager-manager conflict as much as you need a strategy for resolving manager-employee conflict. The strategy is based on leadership training that addresses critical communication skills and conflict resolution. 

Managers in Conflict Harm Positive Employee Relations 

Conflict in the workplace is not bad because it can lead to creative ideas, better problem-solving, and more inclusive behaviors. A Better Leader professionals call this positive conflict because it leads to positive results and can improve employee engagement. Usually, positive conflict doesn’t lead to long-term harm to relationships, like harboring resentments or actively making the other person look bad. Positive conflict can strengthen communication when it leads to good results because problems get solved, and people learn their authentic voices are recognized. 

The most serious issues arise when negative disruptive conflict occurs. Usually, discussions on workplace conflict concentrate on employees who are not getting along or employees who are troublemakers. The manager must find ways to resolve the conflict and help employees move ahead. 

What if the managers are in conflict or are unable to communicate with each other effectively? Poor communication between managers inevitably leads to some type of conflict because it impacts employees in some way. Employees in different departments follow their manager’s lead. They may become uncooperative, uncommunicative, frequently resist change, and/or regularly fail to share important information. They become difficult employees because the managers are difficult with each other.

Managers are role models for employees. If managers don’t communicate well and don’t try to improve their skills, chances are their employees will behave similarly. Quite frankly, poor communication between managers can be a Human Resources nightmare, impacting the workforce and the organizational culture

Managers are #rolemodels for employees. If #managers don’t communicate well and don’t try to improve their skills, chances are their employees will behave similarly. #communication #workplacecommunication

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Illusion of Communication 

How many times have you heard this statement: He’s not listening to me. George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Your managers may talk to each other, but talking is only half of communication.  

Effective communication is two-way – back and forth - and dependent on active listening. Managers may think they are communicating well between themselves, so they don’t understand why their department is not getting the information it needs to do a good job or why their employees are consistently criticized for failing to do a good job. The bottom line is the poor communication between the managers produces conflict on many levels, and it may be much more subtle than two people arguing. 

There are different types of interpersonal conflict, and they all involve communication gaps. Though some conflict is inevitable, poor communication doesn’t have to be. Managers have different leadership styles, perspectives, ideas, and personal values.  

If they don’t have high-level communication skills, your managers are likely not leveraging their differences collaboratively to achieve goals faster. Instead, they may have visible arguments with peers or won’t express their perspectives because they don’t know how to have fruitful conversations that strengthen working relationships rather than harm them. In some cases, they may ignore their peers as much as possible, meaning minimal communication occurs.  

poor communication between managers

Listening to Understand 

To follow up on the Shaw quote, think about what Stephen R. Covey said. “The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” This succinctly sums up most poor communication between managers. Your leaders are not listening to learn or gain new perspectives, and they are forming their defensive reply even while the other person is talking. Projections asked in a blog if your leaders are really listening to employees? Now we are asking a similar question with a new perspective: Are your managers really listening to each other?

Your managers need to have good communication skills because poor skills will drag down the entire organization. Poor communication lowers productivity, adds some amount of toxicity to the culture, and hurts employee engagement. It leaves problems unsolved and innovations hidden.

The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” This Steven R. Covey quote sums up the struggle with poor #communication between #managers. #workplacecommunication

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Following are five basic steps you can take to address ineffective communication between managers.  

Ask the managers to identify the issue or source of the conflict and how it impacts their ability to lead.  

A review of 300 studies in the management and psychology disciplines identified ways to re-establish a positive emotional tone in conversation. One is to raise the issue. This dialogue is important because they may not think their disagreements or poor communication are not impacting employees. People who don’t communicate well may not be aware of their role in causing their employees problems. That’s because people who have poor communication skills or are in conflict tend to think it’s the “other person” at fault. Therefore, it’s the “other person” who should change.   

Ask the managers to identify what they see as their conflict management style. 

The management experts Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann identified five major styles of conflict management.   

  • Collaborating style – assertive and cooperative so able to collaborate with others to solve problems
  • Competing style – assertive and uncooperative and pursues one’s own concerns 
  • Avoiding style – unassertive and uncooperative and withdraws from situations that could lead to conflict
  • Accommodating style – strives to always satisfy the other person, which can be taken advantage of as a weak person.
  • Compromising style – finds a mutually acceptable solution that both people accept as the best solution. 

Chances are your managers believe they use a collaborative or compromising style when they are using neither. This can lead to conversations on the different styles, enabling the use of real-life workplace examples.  

For example, did the managers fail to find a solution because they avoided each other? Was a new but cumbersome workplace procedure implemented because one manager always accommodates the other? The reality is that managers should use more than one style, depending on the importance of the situation.

workplace communication

Address poor communication each time it occurs. 

Senior managers should always address poor communication situations between managers when they occur and come to their attention. It’s tempting for executives and senior leaders to ignore the situation, leaving the managers to carry their resentments back to their departments. Top leaders need to recognize the communication problem and understand the impact the workplace uncertainty that difficult managers create for employees and the organization. 

The best time to discuss ineffective communication and conflict is when it happens because there is a real problem to dissect. What was the impact of poor communication? What could have been handled differently? What could have been a better approach? Is there a solution to discuss now? This enables applying leadership communication skills training to workplace events, a powerful way to reinforce the training. 

Provide leadership training on communication skills and on handling conflict in the workplace. 

Leadership training is imperative. eLearning courses can provide essential training on the many aspects of communication – collaboration, language, conflict resolution, relationship building, and so much more. The training is then reinforced by addressing times of poor communication.  

Leadership communication skills include topics like:  

  • Types of leadership and communication styles 
  • Active listening 
  • Listening with empathy 
  • Listening without bias 
  • Language to avoid 

Reinforce positive communication behaviors through recognition.

Everyone appreciates being recognized for making improvements. Change is not easy. It takes self-awareness, a willingness to step back and honestly assess a situation, and the ability to recognize you are part of the problem. It takes real effort, in other words.  

Even your managers need recognition for improvement. It’s better not to wait for a formal performance review and recognize when conflicting managers demonstrate collaborative behaviors.

Communication Between Managers Sets the Tone for Employees

Your employees take their cues from their managers and supervisors. If your managers can’t communicate well, it sends a message that communication skills are not important. Employees will talk about their managers in negative ways. Employees will not feel comfortable expressing their views, and they will take sides which creates a divide in the workplace between employee groups. The organizational culture suffers. All of this adds up to lower employee engagement. 

The good news: we can help. We have developed numerous eLearning courses and videos on communication skills that your managers can complete at their most convenient time and their own pace. Our experienced professionals among IRI and the Projections team can also develop customized leadership training opportunities that best fit your needs. Chat with our team to determine the best path for your workplace! 

About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.