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Copyright by Stephen Wilbers, Ph.D.


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Managerial Communication

ďCommunication skills are key to good managersĒ

ďGood managers know how to tell good storiesĒ

ďGood managers and good writing go hand in handĒ

Also see Rogerian persuasion, conflict resolution, and persuasive writing.


Seminars & email courses

Communication skills are key to good managers

By Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere

Good managers are good communicators.

Perhaps that isnít always true, but in my experience I can think of few exceptions.

Good managers communicate their thoughts and expectations. They think in terms of relationships. They know how to convey their purpose in ways that are acceptable to their audience, and they know what they want their audience to do in response to their message.

How can you ensure that you are communicating effectively as a manager? Here, in 600 words and without charge for tuition, is Managerial Communication 101:

Determine your purpose. How can you get to where you want to be if you donít know where youíre going?

Determine your purpose Ė your general goal and your specific objective. Be clear in your own mind about what you want your audience to do as a result of reading or hearing your message.

Identify and analyze your audience. Keep your audience in mind as you choose your approach, words, and tone. Determine if you have both a primary and a secondary audience and consider their differences.

In Guide to Managerial Communication, Mary Munter suggests four questions to help with audience analysis: Who is your audience? What do they know? What do they feel? How can you appeal to them?

Consider your audienceís values, biases, and concerns as you decide how much detail to offer, how long your document or presentation should be, what types of examples to include, and how directly or indirectly you should present your conclusion.

Determine a communication strategy. Identify the various options available for communicating your message. Which is most viable? Which is most efficient? Which is least risky?

Know when to write and when not to write. Keep in mind the limitations of written communication. Determine which issues are best communicated in writing and which in person. Donít underestimate the value of give-and-take discussions and face-to-face contact. Decide whether your message would be conveyed more effectively by speaking to a group or speaking to an individual.

Consider your credibility in the eyes of your audience. If you have high credibility, you may want to be direct. If you have low credibility, you may want to be less direct.

Adapt your style to suit your purpose, your audience, and the situation. Be versatile. Tailor each message to the specific occasion.

Convey your message. Devise your message according to the five elements of effective communication: clear statement of purpose; organized, coherent development; adequate, relevant, and specific points of support; appropriate word choice and tone; correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Use conventional formats for particular business applications, such as the three-step memo (purpose, background, action) or the five-part public/customer relations letter (goodwill greeting, empathy statement or apology, background or cause of problem, solution, goodwill closing).

According to your persuasive strategy, adopt a direct or indirect approach in arranging your material. Use a direct approach Ė one in which you state your conclusion first Ė for routine communication and for situations in which you expect your audience to agree with you; use an indirect approach Ė one in which you build your case first and then offer your conclusion Ė when you expect your audience to disagree or be skeptical.

In addition to these techniques of managerial communication, there is one other crucial element: character.

Good managers and good communicators are fundamentally decent people. Their interactions with others are based on trust, respect, empathy, and appreciation.

Certain techniques can be taught and learned, but humanity is another matter. Thereís no formula to achieve it, and thereís no way to fake it.

Good managers are good people.



Seminars & email courses

Good managers know how to tell good stories

By Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere

What are the traits of a good manager?

Is it someone who is motivated by a sense of purpose? Is it someone who has the tenacity to accomplish a goal against overwhelming odds? Is it someone who knows how to inspire others to work as a team to achieve that goal?

Or is it someone who simply is organized and disciplined, someone who knows how to balance a myriad of competing demands without losing sight of the main objective? Is it someone who no matter how distracted or preoccupied with private concerns can make you feel as though your concern is the only one that matters?

A good manager is probably all of these things. But in my opinion a good manager is, above all, a good communicator. And good communicators know three things: They know their purpose, their audience, and their material.

Good managers operate with a clear sense of goals. They know what they want to accomplish, and they know how they want to go about it. Their sense of purpose is always in the forefront of their minds, and they can remind you (and themselves) of that purpose at a momentís notice.

Good managers know their audience. They know what motivates their employees and what troubles them. They know when to supervise closely and when to allow autonomy. They know when to speak and when to listen.

Good managers know their business. They understand the details of how things operate, from the mundane to the complex. They can anticipate problems, and they can understand why deadlines are sometimes missed or why things sometimes go wrong.

Beyond knowing their purpose, audience, and material, good managers have good habits of communication. They

▪Know when to write and when not to write.

▪Look for opportunities to interact with people in person, taking care not to become overly dependent on written or electronic communication.

▪Look for occasions to send "good news" messages, especially notes and letters of appreciation.

▪Stress the positive over the negative.

▪Rarely write in anger.

▪Speak and write in a personal voice whenever possible.

▪Emphasize values, principles, reasons, and feelings as well as facts, information, and decisions.

▪Seek to be "functional" communicators (to use Donald Walkerís terminology in The Effective Administrator), those who accept responsibility for conveying their message clearly, rather than "formal" communicators who blame the audience if their message is not received.

But if a good manager is a good communicator, you might ask, what then is a great communicator? The answer is disarmingly simple: A great communicator is someone who tells good stories.

I can guess what youíre thinking. We all know plenty of good storytellers, donít we?

You should have heard the story my boss told about how our company had no intention of laying anyone off! You should have heard the story she told me about how this special assignment would advance my career! You should have heard the one about why he had to support someone elseís proposal over mine!

But itís true. Great communicators know how to combine the three elements of purpose, audience, and material into a narrative, and narrative is the tie that binds us.

Great communicators can tell the story of an organization and how the part you play Ė your role and your actions Ė represents an integral part of that plot. They can tell the story that links the contributions of past, present, and future workers. They can tell the story of human endeavor in its broadest sense, an epic drama in which all of us have the opportunity to conduct ourselves as heroes.


Seminars & email courses

Good managers and good writing go hand in hand

By Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere

For years Iíve asked the MBA students taking my class in the University of Minnesotaís Carlson School of Management to do two things: Identify the traits of a good manager, and explain how these traits relate to good writing. Here is a compilation of their observations:

Clear. Good managers convey information and expectations clearly. They donít make you guess at what theyíre thinking.

Use words that your readers understand. Avoid meaningless jargon and overly complicated sentence structures.

Credible. Good managers know what theyíre talking about. They inspire confidence by their high standards and successful performance.

Take time to proofread. Use a style manual to eliminate distracting errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Donít let careless mistakes undermine your credibility.

Organized. Good managers donít let unimportant matters distract them from their main goals.

Use an outline to organize your thoughts. Present your main points as headings or as topic sentences. Develop your thinking in carefully structured paragraphs.

Timely. Good managers get the job done on time. They work with deadlines in mind.

Donít procrastinate. Discipline yourself to write on a regular basis. Break long, complex writing assignments into small, manageable tasks.

Committed/concerned. Good managers care. They care about the quality of their product or service, and they care about their relationships with the people around them.

Use words that convey your values and beliefs. Rather than "It is regrettable that your salary increase did not meet your expectations," write, "Iím sorry you were dissatisfied with your salary increase. I appreciate your hard work, and I will do everything I can to ensure you receive fair compensation."

Responsive. Good managers are open to your ideas. They do not give the impression that only their agenda counts.

Recognize your readerís viewpoint. When responding to a problem or complaint, indicate you understand your readerís concerns by paraphrasing their statement of the issue.

Adaptable. Good managers donít operate by formula. They consider every situation on its own merits, and they act accordingly.

Adapt your style to your reader. Know which readers respond to gentle suggestion and which require a more direct, emphatic approach. Know when to nudge and when to push.

Fair. Good managers donít play favorites. They recognize people for the quality of their work rather than act on personal likes and dislikes.

Use language that is professional, objective, and nonjudgmental. Rather than "Your inability to show up for work on time will not be tolerated," write, "Your arriving for work two hours late three times in the last week is a problem."

Inspiring. Good managers lead by example. They make you want to do your best work because you know theyíre doing theirs.

Do more than give assignments and state expectations. Remind your readers why their work is important. Link specific assignments to broader goals. Describe your expectations in terms of your vision of success.

Every year Iíve done this exercise Iíve gained insights into the traits of a good manager and how those traits relate to good writing.




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