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Managers: Talk less, listen more [LISTEN UP]

A recent workplace communication study looking at what occurred in businesses during the pandemic found that managers should talk less, listen more, be empathic, elicit feedback and hold shorter, focused meetings during crises — and also during ordinary times.

Workplace communication often took a back seat this past year, the study authors note, as employees and employers rushed to work remotely, struggled with technology barriers, adjusted to physical distancing and, in some organizations, dealt with layoffs.

The researchers interviewed 30 communication professionals in the District of Columbia and 13 US states. Interviewees represented technology, hospitality, healthcare, food and beverage, financial and legal services, energy, trade associations, transportation, higher education and consultants.

For all the organizations studied, “the desire and follow-through to ethically listen to employees appeared to be a challenge,” said Marlene S. Neill, PhD, associate professor of journalism, public relations and new media at Baylor.

Researchers found that while senior managers valued communication, it became less of a priority as companies grappled with such quick changes as mandated quarantines. With workers often no longer sharing physical quarters, the use of Zoom soared, whether for large group meetings or one-on-one sessions.

One consultant commented that more visual communications, such as videos and video conferencing, seemed to help employees feel that they are cared for.

“I’m making sure that I have my eyes trained on the screen on the facial expressions,” said a communication manager. “It’s interesting because in watching in a monitor, part of active listening is also looking for visual cues of the reactions of your colleagues. Sometimes those indicators are not just verbal. So I’m taking notes, trying to use my eyes.”

Most participants said the ratio of management messaging compared to employee feedback was lopsided, with far more talking than listening. A communication manager in healthcare encouraged senior leaders to schedule 30-minute “walk-around” sessions — whether masked and in person or via technology. “You cannot really listen effectively if someone does not know you very well, because trust has to be built up over time,” the manager said.

Food for thought for all organizational managers.

Read the Journal of Communication Management study abstract here

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