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Business Leaders Uncomfortable Communicating With Employees

Nearly 70% of U.S. business leaders are “uncomfortable” communicating with their employees, according to a Harris Poll on behalf of communications consultancy Interact. In an online survey among 1,120 employed workers, 616 of whom manage employees in the workplace, 69% of managers said that engaging with their employees makes them feel uncomfortable.

Concerns about causing drama in the workplace, incurring retributive reactions and hurting people’s feelings are primary reasons for the discomfort; 37% of respondents reported that they are uncomfortable giving direct feedback and criticism about performance because of how employees might respond. “The stakes are too high for managers and leaders to avoid having difficult conversations with their employees,” said Lou Solomon, CEO and founder of Interact.

The poll broke down several communication fronts that managers have difficulty expressing with employees: Roughly 20% of managers reported that they’re nervous about demonstrating vulnerability, such as sharing mistakes that they’ve learned from. The same percentage of managers lack confidence in recognizing employee achievements and delivering the “company line” in a genuine way.

The results also showed that 19% of managers are uneasy about giving clear directions and 16% of business leaders struggle with crediting others for having good ideas. Perhaps less surprising in the age of texting, 16% of managers said they prefer communicating by email rather than by speaking face-to-face with employees.

“In the absence of direct feedback, negative or positive, we become less powerful and ineffective,” Solomon said. “Team communication breaks down. Leaders become irrelevant. But for leaders who get it right, feedback can create collaboration, a culture of connection and sustainable change.”

In response to the poll, Interact suggests that business leaders confront their fears by listening to their employees’ concerns, being direct and kind when offering feedback, avoiding emotional outbursts or personal remarks, allowing moments of silence to enter tough conversations, following up afterward and praising employees for beneficial contributions to the business.