Are Your Managers Uncomfortable Communicating with Employees? Here’s How To Help Them

November 13, 2018

Written by the HR Pros

Here’s a startling statistic: Nearly 70% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with their employees. That number comes from a Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Interact, and it indicates that managers may at times shy away from doing basic management duties.

If uncomfortable managers avoid giving feedback, offering praise, showing vulnerability, providing direction, or communicating in general, they’re not helping the bottom line. Poor employee performances will go unaddressed. Star performers won’t feel recognized. Employees may distrust their managers and not admit mistakes. Efficiency and productivity won’t be a good as they could be, and that’s money down the drain.

While some managers might do better in non-management positions, others need only a little training, practice, and experience to overcome their discomfort. Here are a few ways you can develop new managers and improve the performances of existing ones:

Best Practices Before Promoting Someone to Management

  • Identify potential managers based not just on individual performance, but likelihood of success when put in charge of a team. Management requires a specific skill set—the ability to lead, to take decisive action, to facilitate compromise, to defuse escalation, to assess performance with clarity and kindness. When considering whom to promote to management, look especially for those employees who exhibit these skills or show signs that they have the potential to develop them.
  • If you see employees with the potential for leadership, give them informal leadership duties and see how well or poorly they do. Some discomfort on their part is expected, so don’t rule out someone just because they’re not fully comfortable the moment they’re asked to lead something. That said, if their feelings of discomfort persist as they’re given more informal leadership responsibilities, they’re likely not well suited to a formal leadership position—at least not yet.
  • Provide relevant skills training. If you identify an employee with strong potential for leadership in the organization, prepare them to take the role by teaching them the skills they’ll need to be successful. Consider paying for them to attend workshops or conferences. A mentorship program could also be helpful if you have good managers to help onboard new managers.

Best Practices with Current Managers

  • Provide skills training in needed areas. It’s possible that a manager may be uncomfortable communicating with employees because they’ve never really been taught how to do it. If that’s the case for any of your managers, teach them the communication skills they’re lacking. Coach your managers and give them time to practice their managerial skills. When they become more competent, they’ll feel more confident.
  • Manage your managers. Like any employee, managers need direction, guidance, and someone to hold them accountable. Do for them what they do for their subordinates.
  • If a manager’s performance is having negative impacts on the company and guidance and training do not help, you may need to look at putting them on a performance improvement plan. This plan should have clear, attainable goals and a set timeframe for completion. If they improve, great, but if not, then it may be time for the next step.
  • If the performance improvement plan doesn’t result in improved performance, it may be time to move the employee out of management. Employees who excelled as individual contributors may not do well in management, and that’s okay. They may be happier going back to what they were doing before, if that’s an option.

Management isn’t easy, and some of its duties will be uncomfortable no matter what. That said, the best managers don’t try to avoid unpleasant conversations when those conversations are needed. Because they’re generally comfortable with their managerial responsibilities, they’re able to face the more challenging moments with more confidence and conviction. And that helps your bottom line


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