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April 29, 2019

Two-Way Communication: 4 Tips for a More Engaged Workplace


You know the reality – employees who are highly engaged in their work perform better than their less-committed counterparts and boost the organization’s bottom line.

One of the most critical elements to employee engagement is two-way communication in the workplace. You might wonder why I add the words two-way to my description since it’s inherent in the definition, yet in consulting with leaders I continue to see a lot of communication that actually is information, since it lacks back and forth that’s critical to communication, among other problems.

Tennis, anyone?

My Dad and I played a lot of tennis growing up. It was one of the few sports where I was coordinated enough to be successful as a lanky kid. In my teens, he turned his passion into a business, starting a boutique tennis store called, “The Wimbledon Shoppe” in the suburb of Milwaukee where I grew up.

He was the star tennis player in high school, and that was his wish for me, which was more of a pipe dream, I knew. While I had a killer two-handed back hand, I couldn’t serve worth a darn. And you can’t win, if you can’t serve well. 

So, I hung up my Prince racket, put away my Tretorn-trainer, and focused my attention on my front counter job at my local McDonald’s. There, I could serve with the best of them!

What is two-way communication?

Tennis is a great analogy for two-way communication. Great matches are filled with great volleys. Likewise, to be most effective, think about two-way communication as a dialogue or conversation that goes back and forth. Doing this helps to ensure several important conditions for making our efforts most successful:

  • We plan our most important communications so we can be purposeful and increase our chances of achieving our outcome
  • We are focused on our audience and where they are coming from, not on what we think and want to get across, so they are in the best position to hear and understand what we’re sharing
  • We allow sufficient time for a back and forth discussion; we listen as much or sometimes even more than we speak. We listen for what’s being said and as importantly, what’s not being said
  • We are open to feedback and pose questions that facilitate this kind of interaction; feedback is also used to frame future communications
  • We regularly check for understanding to confirm a shared meaning with our audience
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How to Use Two-Way Communication in the Workplace

Leaders who understand the importance of effective two-way communication – and how you can’t lead without communicating well – engage employees with various communication channels that help them connect the dots between individual efforts and organizational goals.

But just as important as any leadership message is having systems in place to gather employee input and demonstrate its importance to the organization. By establishing channels to encourage and funnel feedback from employees to leaders, you create a critical structure to support employee engagement.

Here are 4 ways to leverage two-way communication for increased employee engagement:

1. Understand your audience and what’s important to them

The top priority for building engagement is to give employees information they need to succeed in their jobs, and ensure they know where to find additional resources. The type of organization, job and level of employee will dictate the most effective channel to meet your needs. Your efforts will be most effective if you first ask yourself, “What is the most important thing these employees want to know, what is the best way to encourage dialogue and how would they be most comfortable sharing input?

2. Choose or create channels

Once you consider the audience and work environment, look at the best ways to engage employees to share their ideas and insights. You may use existing channels or create new ones. Keep in mind feedback channels can be informal – such as leaders “managing by walking around” or supervisors asking for input – or they can be more formal mechanisms that invite ideas and questions via print or technology. When determining which channels work best, keep in mind employees’ time commitment, availability and access to technology. Be sure they can use feedback mechanisms both during and after work hours. 

3. Gather and encourage feedback

Once you are ready to implement and promote feedback channels throughout the organization, recognize that what you do with their input speaks volumes to employees. When leaders respond quickly to ideas and questions, employees get the message their input is valued and they become more committed and engaged. To ensure feedback gets the respect it deserves, assign someone to respond personally and promptly to all employee concerns and ideas.

4. Act on feedback

Highly engaged employees are enthused about their organization and believe they can positively influence its success. Acting on employee feedback and highlighting the impact employees make is a strong engagement builder. Be sure that all employees know how their colleagues’ suggestions or ideas are being implemented. Regularly sharing results and requesting additional feedback creates predictable, consistent two-way communication that encourages employees to take ownership and understand their ideas are valued by the organization.

Why is two-way communication important?

The importance of building opportunities for solid two-way communication – dialogues and conversations – really can’t be underestimated. When our two-way communication is well planned and executed, the benefits to our organizations include:

  • Heightened levels of job satisfaction by offering an outlet for employee concerns, ideas, opinions
  • Increased productivity because ambiguity about roles/responsibilities/actions is reduced
  • Enhanced collaboration across the organization, which can lead to more creativity and innovation
  • Improved trust between leadership and employees, which builds internal brand loyalty and offers opportunities for continued growth

What one step can you take to further encourage two-way communication, increase employee feedback and reap the benefits of doing so?

—David Grossman

Armed with these 15 practical tips, you’ll be able to encourage two-way communication, increase employee feedback, enhance collaboration, increase productivity and reap the many more benefits of doing so.

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