Tools for Managers: How Leaders Communicate

You know when a manager is speaking because they have a certain way they talk – or at least they appear to have a way of speaking to their team. Some of this comes from being in a position of authority, as this can make their words seem more important.

The rest of this ability to communicate comes from practice, and from listening to what others want to hear.

Listen First

The best way a manager can learn to communicate is to listen to those around them. If you can get a sense of what others around you are interested in and you can determine what their needs may be, it's easier to speak effectively – and with relevance.

To listen to others around you:

  • Have regular meetings – It's ideal to have regular meetings with your team members, especially when you're newly in charge of what is happening. The more you can talk to others, the more you will be able to manage their needs and understand their concerns. Over time, you may be able to have fewer meetings, as you will begin to understand what is happening among the members.
  • Be available – The more available you can be when you're a manager, the more you will be able to hear from your team. Let your team members know that you are available via email, phone, appointment, etc. Then make sure you encourage others to take advantage of this time.
  • Ask questions – When you do get a chance to talk to others on your team, make sure you're listening and asking questions when you need clarification. You want to make sure you're hearing what someone is saying, and not just what you think they're saying.
  • Document – Sometimes, it can help to document what a conversation has included, as this will allow you and the person to whom you were speaking to have a copy of what you have said and promised. It can also be helpful when you need to look back and remember what happened.

Just like any position, the more information you have, the more effective you can be. As a manager, it's essential that you gather as much information as you can, since this will allow you to make better decisions and create more informed strategies.

Respond Carefully

With all of the information you can, and will, receive as a manager, it may be tempting to respond immediately – and this is not always the best choice.

Instead, you may want to think about how you can respond effectively. Though speed might be necessary in some situations, it's not essential that you respond immediately all the time.

In fact, sometimes when you respond too quickly, you may respond inappropriately.

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Here are some ways to make sure you respond effectively:

  • Understand the importance – If you're listening carefully, you will be able to understand and measure the importance of the situation. Think about if you need to answer in that moment. It's easy enough to ask if you can take some time to think about how you might answer, especially if it's an important question.
  • Think about the time frame – You may also be able to tell if you need to answer right away by the question. Think about whether stalling the answer might impact the actions that need to be taken, or not.
  • Consider the options – If you have determined the time frame for the answer, then stop and consider the options. Think carefully through each option to determine whether there is a better option than the other, and if it might be wise to present all the options for someone else to choose.
  • Get feedback/support – When you're still not sure about how to answer a question or what to do in a situation, take time to get feedback from other managers or your boss. This will help you get a better overall picture and perspective of the situation and then answer appropriately.

The more you can focus on your response, the more effective you can become in your communication. Since you will learn something from each exchange you have, you will eventually have a stock of experiences from which to draw your next answer from.

You will be able to respond more quickly the next time.

The E-Conundrum

Though management can often (and does often) take place over email and other virtual forms of communication, this doesn't always work well. You may want to stop and consider whether these convenient methods of communication are best for the conversation.

  • What needs to be discussed? – Stop to think about the information that needs to be relayed over the email. If it's complicated, or requires more information than can be typed in a message, you may want to schedule a phone call or an appointment.
  • Should we talk about it in person? – You may want to stop and think about the conversation and how it may evolve. If you can see that things need to have more than just a few lines of explanation, it may be better to talk in person instead of in an email chain of messages.
  • Will there be follow-up questions? – Consider the conversation. If it's a simple "yes" or "no" conversation, then email is ideal. But when conversations or instructions are more detailed, then you may be better off thinking about how you might get together in person to finish the conversation in one interaction.
  • Is this already a heated or difficult conversation? – When emotions are involved, or you have something difficult to say to someone, it's best to have those conversations in person.

This is not to say you can't use email to send instructions to your team, or that you can't relay information over email. Instead, remember that email is not the only tool for communication. Even if you're in different parts of the world, you can also set up appointments over a video conference.

When Things Go Wrong

When you have troubles in communicating with your team, it might be better for everyone that you have the skills you need to manage these issues before they arise.

Things will go wrong. People will be misunderstood, and people will not be pleased with the way you communicate. It happens, and you're human, but as a manager, you need to bounce back more quickly. You need to right things as soon as you can.

  • Take responsibility – When you communicate in a way that is not effective, or in a way that has caused harm to someone else, you need to take responsibility. You can't simply pretend it didn't happen, or think that as a manager you don't have to apologize for anything. Instead, you need to make sure you're being accountable for your actions. This inspires respect and ensures you are someone who will be able to continue to lead others effectively.
  • Be clear about what you could have done better – As you reflect on the way that you have handled a situation, be clear about what you could have done better, assuming you realize it. If you don't realize it, then ask the other person how you could have done things better and how you could have managed the situation more effectively.
  • Ask if you need to make reparations – It can also help to ask the other party if you need to do anything to make up for what happened. Of course, you don't need to apologize more than once, but if there is something that could help the other person, you could offer to do it.
  • Learn from your mistake – In the end, the best thing you can do after a difficult conversation is to make sure you learn from what you did (or didn't do).

Hopefully, you can avoid difficult conversations and communication issues, but it's unlikely. People have bad days, even you, and even your employees.

How to Communicate When You're a Manager

Just as there are different styles of management, there are different styles of communication for these managers.

You could read books and articles about how you "should" communicate, and all of those tips may not work for the employees you have in your company.

But here are some tips that will work, no matter what sort of manager you end up being in your company:

  • Define the steps – The clearer you can be in your conversations and communication, the better for everyone. First, be certain that you define the steps of what you want the employee or team member to accomplish. If this means you need to spend some time figuring these out before you talk, that is time worth spending. The more you define the steps, the more effective the recipient of the instruction will be.
  • Make space for questions – After you present the steps and the goals of your instruction, allow time for questions. These questions may help you better understand what the employee needs from you, or how you might need to adjust your expectations. In addition, these questions might allow you to have fewer mistakes during the process.
  • Talk one-on-one – Ideally, you should talk to people one-on-one when you need to do so. This will help you to have the privacy you need to talk about even the most difficult things, and it will also help you to seem like an approachable person (because you are), rather than someone who is simply behind a desk.
  • Stop in and say "hi" from time to time – Just because you're the boss doesn't mean you can't be friendly with the people who are on your team. In fact, you should make a point to reach out to every person in your company and learn a little about them. This way, you can make a personal connection.

Just as you might communicate with anyone else in your life, you need to learn how to communicate effectively as a manager.

It takes clarity of thought, knowing when to speak, and when to listen.


Though communicating is the same whether you're a manager or a staff member, how you choose to communicate is vastly different. The more you can look at your communication as a tool for better management, the more effective you can be.