June 5, 2023
Two-Way Communication: 4 Tips and Examples for Getting It Right
Leaders understand that one of the best signs of a successful organization is a highly engaged workforce. When employees are motivated by their work, they perform better than their less-committed counterparts and naturally boost the organization’s bottom line.
Yet what’s often overlooked is a critical element to employee engagement – “two-way communication” in the workplace. Two-way might seem inherent in any definition of communication, but what often happens at work actually isn’t true communication. Rather, it is one-way information delivered by leaders to employees, with limited interaction between the two.
Mastering two-way dialogue helps leaders build a stronger culture, one in which leaders and employees feel a greater sense of trust in each other, have more candid conversations, ask better questions and interact in more substantive ways.
What is two-way communication?
Two-way communication is an exchange of information between two parties during which the speaker and receiver both feel they have an opportunity to share information and provide feedback.
To be most effective, it’s helpful to think about two-way communication as an engaging dialogue, never just a leader monologue. To achieve this kind of communication, leaders need to set the right tone and atmosphere to enable the conversation. One of the best ways is for leaders to make the following activities part of their regular routine:
- Showing humanity as a leader, which means being more human as you lead, understanding that nothing really important gets done without genuine relationships, buy-in, trust and support from your full team. When you show humanity with employees, you’re naturally more open to their perspectives, needs and point of view.
- Planning the most important communications to be meaningful, interesting and purposeful, increasing the chances of achieving the desired outcome.
- Focusing on the audience and where they are coming from, not just on what the leader thinks and wants to get across. This lets leaders be in the best position to hear and understand what’s being shared.
- Allowing sufficient time for a back-and-forth discussion; listening as much as or sometimes more than the leader speaks. Listening for what’s being said, and as importantly, what’s not being said.
- Regularly checking for understanding to confirm a shared meaning with the employee audience.
- Being open to feedback and posing questions that facilitate this kind of substantive interaction; feedback is also used to frame future communication.
Why is two-way communication important?
The importance of building opportunities for solid two-way communication really can’t be overestimated. When two-way communication is well planned and executed, the countless benefits to organizations include:
- Heightened levels of job satisfaction by offering an outlet for employee concerns, ideas and 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
Effective Two-Way Communication Is Like a Game of Tennis
Tennis provides a great analogy on the importance of two-way communication. My Dad and I played a lot of tennis growing up. In my teens, my dad even turned his passion into a business, starting a boutique tennis store called, “The Wimbledon Shoppe” in the suburb of Milwaukee where I grew up.
My dad was a standout tennis player in high school, and that was his wish for me, which was more of a pipe dream. While I had a killer two-handed backhand, I couldn’t serve worth a darn. And of course, you can’t win if you can’t serve well.
Regardless, there was real beauty in tennis when my dad and I got into the proper groove. The best volleys in tennis are when both players fall into a sweet rhythm of serving and returning with focus, precision and skill. That’s how it can feel when leaders and employees truly apply two-way communication.
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. The variety of channels is especially important because not all employees like to receive information in the same way. Some may prefer to share ideas through emails or on social platforms; others may want a phone call or in-person meeting. Offering multiple opportunities to engage helps to address the varied interests and needs.
Obviously, leaders can’t be everywhere all the time and spend all of their days in individual meetings. Yet that shouldn’t be the excuse for pushing out only one-way messages. There’s certainly a time and place when an email or presentation from a leader is the right way to begin the communication. The important point, though, is that should never be the only communication vehicle. Just as important as the leadership message itself are the systems put in place to gather employee input. By establishing channels to encourage and funnel feedback from employees to leaders, leaders can create a critical structure to support employee engagement.
In our work with leaders from a variety of organizations, The Grossman Group has distilled our best guidance for supporting two-way communication to four critical tips, including:
1. Understand your audience and what’s important to them
To truly move employees to action, leaders need to know what they care about and get into their mindset. That can start with some basic questions, such as:
- What concerns or issues do my employees have that are important to understand as I present this information?
- What do employees currently know or don’t know that will be critical to getting them engaged?
- What barriers exist that may prevent employees from supporting this topic – and is there anything I can share about how the leadership team is addressing those barriers to support them?
- What exactly do I as a leader want my employees to know, feel and do about the information I’m about to share? Knowing the answer to this question helps shape the message far more effectively.
The top priority for building engagement is to give employees the 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 you use to meet their needs.
As you think about elevating engagement, always ask yourself: “What is the most important thing these employees want to know, the best way to encourage real two-way communication and dialogue, and how would they be most comfortable sharing input?”
2. Choose or create the best 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. Alternatively, 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 tools 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 employee 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. Many organizations also use employee ambassador or communication liaison programs to ensure that employee feedback is being regularly solicited and that the insights are being shared with the leaders empowered to respond and devise solutions.
4. Act on feedback
Highly engaged employees are enthused about their organization and believe they can positively influence its success. That means leaders cannot make the mistake of simply collecting feedback and never doing anything about it. Acting on employee feedback when you can 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 helps reinforce that their ideas are valued by the organization.
How to Encourage Two-Way Communication in the Workplace
As was touched on briefly earlier, showing humanity as a leader is one of the key ways to enable two-way communication. The famous quote from President Theodore Roosevelt sums it up: “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
In our work with leaders, we’ve identified 4 steps to help demonstrate how much you care through two-way communication:
- Step 1: Be visible and communicate frequently. Personal touchpoints are important to show people you understand their need to stay connected and informed, and that you truly value their input. Depending on the size of your team, you can engage with team members regularly either through a daily huddle, regular team meeting, one-on-one meeting, Town Hall meeting or team conversations.
- Step 2: Check on how team members are doing personally. Whenever you can, talk with individual employees about what’s happening in their daily lives outside of work, including personal interests, family news or how they are managing challenges inside the organization. By doing so, you’ll help team members feel valued and encouraged to engage in two-way communication.
- Step 3. Demonstrate you care by listening with empathy. Leaders can reflect back on what they hear and show sensitivity to employee needs, offering help or guidance whenever possible.
- Step 4. Show appreciation for your team and celebrate the successes. When you say thank you for great work and share specific feedback on what went right, this can boost an employee’s feeling of belonging, value and build a greater sense of purpose to the work.
Two-Way Communication Examples
There are a number of ways to engage in two-way communication with employees beyond one-on-one dialogue. Some effective methods we deploy in our work include:
- Example 1: Ask Me Anything. To encourage candid dialogue within a large global organization, some leaders opt to include “Ask Me Anything” sessions at the conclusion of a Town Hall meeting. Employees can pose unscripted questions to the leader, sometimes even anonymously to encourage tough questions. The leader then shares feedback directly with the team in an authentic way. In doing so, leaders demonstrate that they truly care about creating two-way communication and addressing the top things on employees’ minds.
- Example 2: 10-Minute Opening Day Huddle. Leaders on a factory floor make a point to meet with the team each morning on the floor before the shift begins. During this meeting, leaders can share critical information about the priorities for the day but also invite questions or concerns. Having this kind of short meeting sets the tone for ongoing communication and can save a lot of time and back-and-forth throughout the day.
- Example 3: Host a “Virtual Coffee”. Much has been said about the value of “management by walking around,” which essentially has leaders making a point to circulate the company’s offices and check in on people to get a pulse of the mood and offer employees an opportunity to share concerns or perspectives. While remote work has made this practice more challenging, the concept is still sound. Leaders who make time to have genuine two-way conversations with employees can be much more effective in establishing trust and a sense of teamwork. In organizations where many employees remain remote, regularly hosting “virtual coffees” or check-ins can achieve a similar result, enabling smaller groups of employees to have an open-ended conversation with a leader.
- Example 4. Focus groups. From our experience, leaders don’t encourage focus groups as regularly as they should. They can be an excellent tool for gathering real-time feedback on how employees are doing, what main questions are bubbling up and which supports might be needed to overcome any obstacles. When leaders take part in these conversations, they can learn invaluable details on how the team might shift gears to achieve any number of organizational goals.
- Example 5: Lunch and listen. Whenever time permits, leaders should take the time to gather with teams without a specific agenda. During a site visit, tagging on a lunch or dinner casual meeting allows the leader to show the team their personal side. When these meetings are held, leaders should talk less and listen more, showing genuine interest in the team and a desire to promote two-way communication.
- Example 6: Surveys with a Purpose. When organizations conduct employee surveys for feedback on what’s going well and what needs improvement, it’s especially effective when leaders communicate the findings. By simply sharing the results and then inviting the team to help craft solutions, leaders have an opportunity to regularly demonstrate that they care. This is a perfect way to make the feedback part of a two-way communication loop, all designed to make things better for people and the organization.
The Bottom Line on Two-Way Communication
In workplaces today, where the pace of change is fast and ever-present, it’s tempting for leaders to dismiss the importance of two-way communication. Send out an email and you can check the box that you’ve communicated. But little gets accomplished in business without two-way communication, in which both leaders and employees take the time for a candid exchange, to truly listen to – and learn from – each other. That’s the way leaders can move from average to truly great.
What one step can you take to further encourage two-way communication, increase employee feedback and reap the benefits of doing so?
Other posts you might be interested inView All Posts
4 min read | April 19, 2021
Open-Ended Questions Enhance Employee CommunicationRead More
4 min read | November 12, 2021
5 Proven Approaches to Leader Communications in the New RealityRead More
5 min read | January 27, 2021