How to Communicate Better: A Guide for HR Professionals

Last updated: Oct 8, 2019

Speaking at a conference, SHRM-Senior Certified Professional Jennifer Currence defined what she called the three components of communication: self-awareness, listening, and speaking. Her thoughts and a synopsis of a SHRM toolkit/treatise titled “Managing Organizational Communication” are the essence of our guide for HR professionals on how to communicate better.

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An SCP/Consultant Dissects Business Communication

Communicating is an art that must be deeply understood to be mastered, particularly in settings where diversity of thought and experience can complicate mutual understanding. The workplace is a prime example of diverse people connecting to achieve a common goal, which is why human resources pros have to be excellent communicators.

Jennifer Currence is the president of The Currence Group in Tampa, Florida, which specializes in leadership development and management skills. At the company, she acts as a human resources trainer, professor, author, and speaker whose experience with SHRM includes writing questions for the SHRM-SCP exam.

Here’s Currence’s take on the three components of communication:

Being Self-Aware

Self-awareness is to communication what lenses are to cameras. You have to understand the lens to fully know what you’re seeing through the camera’s viewfinder and what others will see when they view your picture. You must understand your strengths, weaknesses, biases – personal filters – to get a clear and objective understanding of what people are trying to tell you.

Listening

Currence offers three tips for effective listening:

  • Focus exclusively on what is being said, not how you plan to react or respond.
  • Use your mental energy to explore what is being said, not to sit in judgment on what, how, and why it is being said.
  • Practice active listening, which can include paraphrasing what is being said to verify your understanding and validate the speaker’s effort.

Talking

Currence recommends asking the speaker three broad questions that probe the what and how of what was said, then offer suggestions or feedback. The acronym TED is her template:

  • Tell me more.
  • Explain what you mean.
  • Define that term or concept for me.

She also offers four tips on how to handle difficult conversations, which she contends must play out in person to effectively connect:

  • Use your curiosity to explore and engage with the person.
  • Rely on objective, observable facts.
  • Keep the message within the context of business and what it means to the company.
  • Vie for a commitment to act on conclusions.

SHRM’s Take on "Managing Organizational Communication"

Founded in 1948 as the American Society for Professional Administration, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) touts itself as “the foremost expert, convener and thought leader on issues impacting today’s evolving workplaces.” That impact includes certification programs for Certified Professional and Senior Certified Professional such as those offered by the University of South Florida.

In SHRM’s own words, its “Managing Organizational Communication” toolkit reviews “the basics of effective organizational communication, the importance of a communication strategy, the role of different communicators within the organization, types of messages and vehicles, training for better communication, and methods for measuring results.” That all falls under the headings of:

Communication Strategy

The goal here is two-way communication that fosters a positive, rewarding, goal-oriented workplace by avoiding the cost of poor communications and common mistakes that produce it.

To maximize success, a communication plan should include:

  • Effective top-down strategies wherein senior management is “setting the tone for a cascading series of messages.”
  • Budgeting for various types of communication tools and methods.
  • A process whereby managers evaluate and understand the issues and situations behind the need for and execution of effective communication.
  • Accommodating a feedback process that can be used to craft follow-up messages.
  • Using communication methods and tools appropriate to the message, making it as easy as possible to understand.

The strategy must include everyone, incorporate training to maximize effectiveness, respond to employee issues, deal with external media, and try to establish a means of measuring results. The last point is difficult to accomplish but critical to fine-tuning the strategy.

Audience

This is all about having all the right people on the receiving end of the messaging. SHRM addresses this under three headings:

  • Communicating up: The goal here is to ensure upper management hears what employees have to say.
  • Geographically dispersed audience: Communicating with far-flung elements of the organization can be daunting, but it is essential.
  • Diversity and global issues: This boils down to “Cross-Cultural Sensitivity and Communication.”

Types of Messages/Vehicles and Approaches

The type of message sent is a major factor in choosing the appropriate communication channel. Are you talking standard operating procedures? General business updates? Bankruptcy? Downsizing and restructuring? Benefits changes? Emergency? Merger or acquisition? Outsourcing? Each demands appropriate handling by HR pros, with levels of complexity ranging from basic to extreme.

Once you assess the message, you can choose the proper delivery system. Handbook? Newsletter? Town hall meeting? Email? Face-to-face meeting? Telephone? Surveys/polls? Stories? Social media? Messaging apps? The grapevine?

It’s not easy to juggle timing, employee-manager locations and realities, the message itself, and choosing the right delivery system.

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Advancing Your HR Skills Can Advance Your Company’s Message

The USF Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education teamed up with SHRM to provide flexible certification programs designed for working HR professionals determined to advance their careers.

SHRM certification programs and a SHRM Essentials of Human Resources course aren’t the only arrows in CTPE’s quiver. Beyond Human Resource Management, CTPE programs feature Emerging Leader Certificate, Paralegal Certificate, Process Improvement, Project Management, Test Preparation, community programs, and corporate on-site training.

Contact us if you want to know more about what we can do for you.

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