Category Archives: Communication

Employee engagement- can you do it on your own or should you get help?

Happy Monday everybody! I can hear the groans already. Mondays are a bit of a pain but then again, you have to start somewhere.

Aside from being a morning person, I opened my mail this morning to find this little gem inside!


A few months ago at the Twitter Beach Meet, I met Elinor Green and Lucie Snape from ‘the face’. We chatted about twitter, its uses in organisations and spoke about why we were there. I was so interested in what they did, we swapped cards. Again, disclosure- I haven’t been paid for these comments and I’ve only spoken with Lucie and Elinor on twitter since we met. I just wanted to share a great idea with the rest of you.

So I open up the card and inside it reads:

Dear Boss,

This is your star employee speaking. I don’t mind working for you, but I don’t love it either, When you talk about the future, all I hear are just words. And my colleagues feel the same. Wouldn’t you want us totally engaged and working at peak efficiency?

Of course you would. So, here’s a tip. If you want to get inside our hearts and minds, check out They really know their chit (and chat).

Now obviously it’s a clever ploy to get you to check out their website listing their services (which might I add is very cool), but it stopped me dead this morning and again I wondered what I could do in my workplace to improve both internal communication and employee engagement.

We know given the current environment that people are less likely to leave their current jobs, and given everything that is happening- they aren’t happy either.

Corporate Leadership Council Research (2008) tells us that disengaged employees are staying and they were 24% less likely to quit their jobs in 2008 than in 2006.

So given that we know that many employees are not engaged (some disengaged)- is it possible to turn this around internally or is it always necessary to engage an external provider to get things started?

Lots of companies use various tools like the Hewitt Engagement Survey, an organisational LSI or a company like ‘the face’ to turn things around. So if you’ve identified a problem in your organisation is it possible to go it alone or must we engage an expert? What are your experiences?


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Open Feedback Culture is important- what’s yours like?

When we consider athletes, dancers or other sportspeople today we know that they set goals, they train and they work hard to achieve optimum performance. After they perform, they often critique the performance and receive feedback from others. For instance a baseball pitcher might review video footage, they might seek out feedback from their coach or sports specialists. If they didn’t seek feedback, or weren’t provided with this feedback they would not be able to achieve or maintain the desired performance.


It’s no secret here that the culture at many organisations is one that shy’s away from having tough or difficult conversations with people. This includes peer-to-peer dialogue, upwards and downwards feedback or communication.

The best feedback for learning occurs in the moment, but I think it would be safe to say that many staff aren’t even receiving accurate feedback during appraisal time. It’s much easier for managers to tick the box and write a general comment about an employee than have an honest conversation about someone’s behaviour and performance. Sometimes it’s the threat of a grievance or investigation that put’s managers off.

We know feedback is crucial to improving performance so this is a culture we need to change.

The reason why people get scared and threatened by feedback is often because they aren’t used to receiving it. Often managers tippy toe around what they really need to say, whilst others blurt out loud and clear what’s on their mind in an inappropriate manner. Neither approaches are effective methods of providing feedback to employees, nor will they evoke a change in the individual’s behaviours. Balance is key.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting you use the old hamburger approach (or shit sandwich as some people call it!) but it is about delivering a firm message in an appropriate way to other people in the workplace. We talk a lot about communication (yeah yeah we all know the model of giving and receiving a message)- so why don’t we think about this when giving feedback?

Some further thoughts: here’s a three-pronged approach I like (HT Evan Carmichael)

1. From an individual perspective, it is critical that people don’t take feedback personally. Take it as a means of learning.
2. From the team perspective, managers need to provide coaching in the spirit of improving performance, not naming flaws or faults or trying to change what makes someone who he/she is. Use it as a means of instruction.
3. From an organizational perspective, companies need to recognize and reward people who have the courage to remain open to giving and receiving constructive performance feedback. Exploit it as a way to develop talent and manage performance.

What is the feedback like in your workplace and how can we as HR professionals encourage it?

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Communication Strategies and Organisational Change

Previously I’ve spoken about organisational change, change management and emotional intelligence which are all timely issues right now. In addition to these areas, I like to highlight the importance of the communications strategy in managing organisational change.

Covin and Kilman’s (1990) research note that:

‘Failure to share information or to inform people adequately of what changes are necessary and why they are necessary were viewed as having a highly negative impact. Secrecy, dishonesty, and the failure to assess dysfunctional rumours were also issues of concern’.


Hence, a positive communication strategy would involve announcing the change early (even if incomplete); establishing an information timeline; commenting on the inability to give further information; clarifying the values and protocol for change decisions; tailoring each communication to the intended audience and finally, involving those affected by the changes in as much planning as possible (DiFonzo and Bordia. 1998).

This is a particularly key point as participation in the process can greatly assist in reducing employee resistance to change (Robbins, Waters-Marsh, Cacioppe and Millett. 1994), however full participation in the processes is not always possible due to the nature and sensitivity required by some changes (such as a restructure) and time constraints. It is also wise to use a variety of media to deliver your messages, however face-to-face should always remain the preferred medium.

Finally, it’s important from a HR standpoint to view the communication process and the implementation of organizational change as inextricably linked processes (Lewis. 1999) that must be carried out systematically in order to assist people to cope with change and achieve a positive impact upon the business.

Do you know of any good or bad examples of organisations trying to communicate change?

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Paralanguage at work: are you sending conflicting messages?

We also communicate non-verbally using what is known as paralanguage. This includes features such as “speech rate and intensity; pitch, modulation and quality of voice; and articulation and rhythm control” (Hargie et al. 2004, p. 55). Paralanguage is an important form of non-verbal communication when you consider situations in the working environment such as speaking to influence during meetings, business presentations and performance management of staff. This is because studies have shown that the effects of voice tone for example (particularly negative voice tone) make a disproportionately stronger impact on decoders i.e. those who decode the non-verbally communication, than the actual verbal content (Graham et al (1991).

Consider this in the context in the working environment in a performance management meeting between an employee and their supervisor. For example, suppose a supervisor needs to deliver a message to an employee they really like and enjoy working with, or alternatively someone who actually infuriates and angers them. The supervisor may feel a range of emotions such as nervousness, anxiety, apprehension, anger, or distress. As such, many managers attempt to hide their true emotions from their subordinates and this in turn sends hugely conflicting non-verbal communication. Its confusing because the message they are verbalising is inconsistent with the messages they are communication through their body language.

The overall message? Be more cognizant about the situation and make real efforts to ensure that the verbal and non-verbal communications are consistent with one another, as discrepancies can lead to miscommunication, distrust and frustration.

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It’s all in the face

Another component of body language as a form on non-verbal communication that impacts the working environment is that of kinesics relating to the face. Again if we consider the situational context of an employee interview (organisational recruitment) or even a performance management meeting between a manager and employee, one of the most common deception-related gestures are hand-to-face movements.

For example, Waltman & Golen (1993) maintain that during deception the hand is often used to cover the mouth and “the person talks through the fingers as if hiding or trying to keep words from escaping”. Similarly, scratching the neck is likely to suggest that one is uncertain, concerned or doubtful; rubbing the ear can indicate that the person feels they have heard enough and chin stroking can be a prelude to one making a decision (Fletcher. 2000). Hence, the importance of being aware of our own body language, and learning to read others non-verbal communication in many situations in the modern working environment is highlighted in these examples.

One of the most obvious forms of body language is that of facial expressions and is somewhat more universal than some of the other forms of body language. It is through the use of over 20 facial muscles that we encode in excess of 1000 distinct expressions that indicate our emotion and communicate a non-verbal message (Hargie, Dickson & Tourish. 2004, p. 49). Facial expressions are also said to be the most accurate predictors of attitudes and feelings (Graham et al (1991).
facial expressions
Facial expressions are arranged into six universally recognized basic categories including fear, happiness, sadness, disgust, anger and surprise (Ekman & Friesen, 1975; Izard, 1971). In comparison with differing meanings for eye contact as mentioned earlier, facial expressions can generally be identified in a similar manner across different backgrounds and also cultures (Ekman & Friesen, 1975; Izard, 1971; Izard, 1994).

Despite this, there are still some cultural implications to be considered. For example, Japanese articulate that negative emotions should not be shown, thus the smile is used as a ‘mask’ for negative emotion including embarrassment or reserve (Ramsey, 1994). This may be relevant to know in the instance of delivering performance feedback to an employee for example. Hence although the facial expressions can be predominantly read across cultures; the way in which they are used to non-verbally communicate in the working environment varies.

Interesting stuff when you consider how we analyse non-verbal communication in scenarios such as job interviews, performance management meetings and negotiations. It also shows what a powerful too it can be, and that you need to be aware of your own non-verbal cues.

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Your eyes really are the window to your soul

One of the most commonly recognised forms of non-verbal communication is body language and eye contact can be one of the most powerful forms. For instance during a normal conversation we, on average, look at each other about one-third of the time, however if one makes contact less than this it can convey boredom, lack of interest and make the other person feel uncomfortable. In contrast, if you make eye contact more often, you increase the ability to engage the other person and illustrate interest and/or enthusiasm (Fletcher (2000). If you consider this in an environment such as a workplace interview, it’s crucial to use eye contact to convey interest for the position and the organisation while creating the best impression.
However, most nonverbal communication is decoded in the limbic system in our brain which is beyond our conscious control (Thorne (2005). An example of this in relation to body language and eye contact is the iris because when something is of interest to us the iris dilates. In this way, when you consider a Human Resources context such as a negotiation between employers and unions, a sharp negotiator may be able to read if you are still willing to make concessions or not (Barnum & Wolniansky. 1989). Pretty amazing, hey?

It’s also useful to consider that there is cultural disparity in the way in which body language is used and interpreted. For example, maintaining eye contact when you are being asked a question in considered polite in some cultures, whilst rude in others. This was made clearly apparent when Barbara Walters interviewed Colonel Muamar el-Qaddafi in Libya (Barnum & Wolniansky. 1989). After the interview she commented that he looked all over the room, gazing past her and refusing to look her in the eye. She explained that in America, refusing to look someone in the eye conveys a somewhat ‘shifty’ or untrustworthy quality in a person.

However, in an Arab context this non-verbal communication through the use of body language was actually a compliment as it is a way of paying respect. Looking a woman in the eye straight on, would be perceived on a similar level to physical assault in some parts of the world where women still wear a veil to avoid eye contact with men (Barnum & Wolniansky. 1989). This example highlights how the cultural framework that one uses to view non-verbal communication through, can impact the way the message is interpreted and received.

This was something I hadn’t really thought much about before, but found to be quite interesting.

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Non-verbal Communication and HR

– Why is non-verbal communication important to HR Pros?

Many of you will know that non-verbal communication is important because it conveys important messages via our body movements, intonations, facial expressions and gestures etc. You might think of watching your body language while presenting but have you ever thought about it strictly in the sense of HR scenarios at work? Or have you ever prepped your managers on non-verbal communication in these situations? What about when you go for a job interview?


An experiment by Forbes and Jackson (1980) observed behaviours of accepted candidates and compared them to applicants who were deemed unsuccessful for the roles on offer. Consequently they discovered that the accepted candidates engaged more in direct eye contact, had more head movements and smiled more than who were unsuccessful. *notes down for next interview*

These posts will hopefully give you some food for thought when considering your own non-verbal communication as a HR Professional and how to interpret other people’s non-verbal cues in the workplace.

Some key stats:

• Non-verbal channels such as facial expression, body movement, and voice tone contribute 93 per cent of the “attitudinal” message to the receiver (Graham, Unruh, & Jennings. 1991).
• Words account for 7%, tone of voice accounts for 38% and body language 55% of whether we like the person.
• Facial expressions are almost eight times as powerful as the words we use (Fletcher. 2000).

Non-verbal communication takes place every time one person interacts with another individual, and it can be intentional or unintentional

Consider a candidate who is nervous for an interview. Unintentionally they may communicate this non-verbally through their body language such as fidgety hands, playing with jewellery or tapping their fingers on the table. The way they sit in the chair throughout the interview may also indicate how comfortable they are and some non-verbal behaviour may even suggest whether they are lying or telling the truth. However, they may not even realise or be conscious of the non-verbal communicative signs they are emitting.

Another scenario is the negotiator in an Industrial Relations environment. In order to be successful during a negotiation it’s crucial that the individual is acutely aware of what they are communicating verbally and that it additionally matches their non-verbal cues. Most notably cues are concerned with the hands and face, and they must be careful not to illustrate their true emotions or intentions in the heat of the moment. Negotiations may be likened to poker, where players intend not to communicate to the others players the cards that they have been dealt, or where they intentionally express a particular emotion in an attempt to fool the other players. Hence, as HR professionals we all need to be able to use our ‘poker face’ in a variety of situations in the workplace.

Interestingly studies (Manusov & J. Scott Rodriguez (1989) suggest that positively labelled non-verbal communication messages are usually interpreted as intentional, whereas negative messages were perceived as unintentional.

Are you aware of what you are communicating non-verbally at work and does it match what you are actually saying?

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