Improve Relationships By Establishing Communication Expectations

While I was completing my MBA, I was also working for someone who taught me an important lesson about leadership and communication. During the orientation process, my supervisor reviewed with me a prepared list of her expectations.


One of the categories she reviewed was communication. She shared how she liked to work with her employees, how often we would have one-on-one meetings, and how to decide whether a topic required face-to-face communication, a phone call, or an email.


During this meeting I was able to ask questions and share examples of what had worked well for me in the past and what had not. This brief conversation resulted in fewer conflicts, increased motivation, and greater relationship satisfaction. The return on investment was huge.


Each of us has conscious and unconscious preferences about how we communicate with others and how others communicate with us, but many of us are left guessing because we don’t take the time to think about, write down, and share our preferences.


Included below are questions you can ask when initiating a conversation with your supervisor; you can also adapt this list for conversations with your direct reports. You might not find all of the questions relevant to your work, but the list should give you a good place to start when establishing communication expectations.


Boundaries

  • What do you consider regular business hours?

  • How many days a week would you like me to be physically present in the office?

  • What times am I expected to be available during the day (e.g., start time, end time)?

  • When is it most important that I am available during the workday?

  • What expectations do you have about communicating outside of regular business hours?

  • What are your expectations about working or being available on weekends?

Meetings

  • How often would you like to schedule one-on-one meetings?

  • Do you prefer to meet in your office, virtually, or via phone?

  • Do you prefer to drive the meeting or should I come prepared with topics to discuss?

  • How often do you prefer to informally check in with each other?

  • What communication channel do you prefer for informal check-ins?

Communication Channel

  • How often do you prefer to communicate using the following communication channels?

  • What topics do you find appropriate for each?

  • What topics do you consider urgent, requiring your immediate attention?

Channel

Frequency

Topics

Face to Face

Zoom/Webex

Phone

Email

Chat/IM

Text Message

Written Report

Style

  • What response time do you expect from messages you initiate (i.e., immediately, within the hour, 24 hours)?

  • Do you tend to give directives or ask questions?

  • How do you tend to make decisions?

  • How do you tend to deal with conflict?

  • What are one or two things that current or past employees do in their communication with you that you appreciate?

  • Conversely, what communication pitfalls should I strive to avoid?


* * * * *


The people we work with can’t read our minds. Leaders who are serious about effective communication not only establish communication expectations with their direct reports, but they will expect everyone on their team to do the same. Moreover, they will often put their guidelines in writing, make them available for employees to review, and then hold members of their team accountable for meeting their expectations.

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