Communicating Well With Employees

Employees not listening? Perhaps you need to take a closer look at your communications style.

Q: I own a small medical services business. I have a problem getting some employees to follow new methods. The problem is that the old methods still work for these employees, but create more work for others. I have talked until I am blue in the face, and the problem still exists. Is there something I'm doing wrong?

A: The third chapter in my book Bringing Out the Best in Peopleis titled "Louder, Longer, Meaner." It refers to the way most people try to get others to do what they want them to do. That is, they tell them over and over but vary the message or the intensity of it in hopes that one variation will bring about the desired action. Mothers around the world have learned that if you call a child by his full name, he'll respond better to a request. In reality, it's not using the full name or changing the tone of voice that gets the action. What causes the behavior to occur at that point, when other more gentle requests failed, is the fact that hearing the full name is the only request for action that is routinely associated with a consequence.

Management literature has been obsessed with communication as the biggest problem in business when, in fact, it is the consequences that follow or don't follow the communication that are the problem. The clarity of the communication, the intensity with which it is delivered or even the extent that employees understand the message is not the problem. It is that what we say we are going to do and what we actually do are often at odds. For example, it might be that you told employees that they should use the new methods because it will make their work and that of others easier. However, because they are used to the old methods--and because the new ones take more time to learn and are more difficult to execute correctly in the early stages--they find excuses to continue to use the old ones. In other words, you said that their work would be easier, but their immediate experience is that it is not. You might have told them in your frustration that you will not accept procedures done the old way, but have found yourself not following through because of schedule demands of your customers.

When introducing a change into the workplace, the first thing you should plan are the consequences for performing and the consequences for not performing. When I say consequences, I mean rather immediate consequences for the performer, not "in the sky by and by" consequences and not those that benefit the organization. When I use the word "consequences," most managers think of negative ones. While there should be negative consequences for repeated failure to use new methods, you should focus on positive consequences for learning and using the new methods. Positive reinforcement should be for individual and group accomplishments. For example, write notes thanking those who are using the new methods and spend some time in the workplace asking individuals about how the new work is going. Plan a lunch when the entire office is using the new methods. Have a ceremony that buries the old method. In other words, have fun with it. If you spend the same amount of time delivering consequences as you do talking until you are blue in the face, I'm sure that you won't have a problem with compliance, and your job will be a lot less stressful as well.

Aubrey C. Daniels, Ph.D., founder and CEO of management consulting firm Aubrey Daniels & Associates (ADA), is an internationally recognized author, speaker and expert on management and human performance issues. For more about ADA's seminars and consulting services or to order Aubrey's bookBringing Out the Best in People: How To Apply The Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, visit, or contact Laura Lee Glass at (800) 223-6191 or

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

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