Communicating with anyone is a challenge, let alone communicating with employees in a productive way. Why is communicating so hard? Because each of us comes to the table with different backgrounds, experiences, knowledge, communication styles and so on. It’s also hard because we communicate with more than just words. Our body language, tone of voice and other intangibles come into play, as well as the choice of words used (and the manner in which they’re used).
If you’re a fleet manager, you probably face even more challenges when trying to communicate, because you’re often dealing with drivers out on the road, not onsite. Trying to communicate via messaging, text, email, radio or phone only adds another layer of complexity to something that’s already hard to do well.
So what’s a fleet manager to do? Well, there’s no magic pill nor formula to make us all better communicators overnight, nor is there any quick fix to the fact that your employees are running everything you say and write through their own personal filter, so there’s only one thing you can do: Resolve to become a better communicator. Period.
Improving your communication skills can benefit every area of your life, from professional to personal, from your relationships with your employees to your relationships within your family. Notice we said “improving,” not revamping! We’re not any kind of self help clinic here, only a fleet washing business. But we do believe there are a few basic skills each one of us could work on in 2016 to spend the year communicating more clearly and effectively than before.
To make this improvement as easy on you as possible, we’ve come up with 12 tips for improving your communication skills, so you can work on only one per month in the coming year. None of it is rocket science. It requires only that you spend one month being aware of one skill and trying to get better at it. And we’ll be doing it right along with you! So, what does 2016 look like?
January: Recognize that it starts with you, as the fleet manager. If you’re frustrated with poor communications at work, chances are so is everyone else. Be the leader and the example. Demonstrate that you’re trying to do better, and others will follow suit. That’s sounds easy enough, right?
February: Strive for face-to-face interactions when they’re possible. As a fleet manager, you likely spend a lot of your workday away from your drivers who are out on the road. Communication can still happen via technology and cell phones. But when you can be in the same place at the same time, try to spend some time with each of your drivers, even if you’re only talking about the latest baseball game or the road construction on highway five. How hard is that?
March: Actually listen to what is being said, rather than dwelling on what your response will be as soon as the other person is done talking. This is harder, we admit! As humans, we seem to want to spend all that time that we’re supposed to be listening only thinking about our reply. This month, try really really hard to just listen.
April: Now that you’ve started paying attention to listening, try this trick: Be ready to repeat back to the other person what you think they said, so they can clarify or confirm that yes, you did hear them correctly. This will train you to listen!
May: Warning, these are getting a little more challenging, and this is the most challenging of all for some people, but try to keep the emotions out of it. If you’re being confronted with emotion, stay calm and remember it’s not about you. You might be on the receiving end of it! But reacting emotionally will do zilch to help resolve the situation. And remember, you’re the role model for improved communications at your business. If your drivers can see you staying calm when faced with adversity, they will slowly strive to do so as well.
June: Ask questions but not loaded questions. Asking questions is key to communication (as opposed to making assumptions, for example). But they need to be non-emotional questions, and not leading. Be wary of any question that starts with “why,” for example, as in, “Why didn’t you let me know you were running late on that delivery?” because that tends to put the other person on the defensive.
July: Know when it’s time to ask an open-ended question vs. a close-ended question that requires only a yes or no answer, such as, “Do you think you’ll be able to make the delivery on time?”
August: Answer questions. Communication goes both ways. Some people have an uncanny ability to give a round-about answer that’s no answer at all. Don’t be one of those people.
September: Be positive and encouraging. It’s an old saying but still true, that you catch more flies with sugar than vinegar. This doesn’t mean you have to be a Polly Anna. It just means look for ways to be positive and encouraging when you can. This will make communication with you easier for your employees.
October: Here’s another hard one—Remember that it’s not about you. When an employee is being emotional or is upset, it might be they don’t feel well or something is amiss at home or they are frustrated with themselves for a poor choice. Assume their attitude towards you doesn’t have to do with you, and you’ll be able to communicate more objectively.
November: Be trustworthy, and trust in turn. Keep your word and do what you say you’ll do. People are going to communicate more openly with someone they trust.
December: Ask for feedback. How did this past year go? Were you communicating better? Are your employees’ skills improved at all? In what ways do they think you could improve? Maybe you’re still interrupting and you don’t realize it, or your habit of crossing your arms is off-putting. Find out, and keep on keeping on, being the fleet manager who can communicate effectively with his drivers, no matter where they are.
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