Are You Communicating Enough with Your Team?

Spoiler alert: probably not.

March 28, 2023


Illustration by: iStock/ozgurdonmaz

As a leader, you’re responsible for communicating with your employees — about the company, the team’s goals and responsibilities, and each member’s performance. But in a world where “less is more” and “too much information!” is a put-down, it’s tempting to under-communicate at work. After all, the team is busy and the shorter the email or meeting, the better, right? Well, no. It turns out that more communication is actually better.

The Consequences of Poor Communication

“More than any other leadership skill, people are fiercely criticized for poor communication,” says Francis Flynn, the Paul E. Holden Professor of Organizational Behavior. “The higher up you get, the harsher that criticism becomes.”

More than any other leadership skill, people are fiercely criticized for poor communication.
Francis Flynn

And understandably so: Communication from leaders — or lack thereof — can significantly impact workplace culture. So, how should you calibrate your communication? Keep reading for best practices on how to strengthen your communication skills.

Employees Equate More Communication with More Empathy

Flynn, who also teaches in several Stanford Executive Education programs, teamed up with doctoral candidate Chelsea Lide to research how employees evaluate managers based on their level of communication. They examined thousands of leadership assessments, and surveyed employees about how much communication they receive from bosses — compared to how much they would prefer to get.

To be fair, very few managers deliver just the right amount of information. But Flynn and Lide found that the next best thing is giving too much, even if it can be annoying to employees at times. Employees know an overly communicative boss means well and is making an effort; they view them as empathetic and working to benefit the team.

Conversely, too little communication from the top makes employees feel ignored or undermined. They perceive these leaders as uncaring and unhelpful, lacking compassion and leadership ability. And while that may not be true, it’s the impression an under-communicator can give.

Recalibrating Your Communication Levels

Here are three key takeaways about communication levels — and three best practices to address them:

  • It’s important to recognize if you’re under-communicating. According to Flynn, many leaders mistakenly believe they’re communicating at the right levels.
  • Review performance assessments or ask colleagues and other employees if they would find it helpful to receive more communication from you.
  • You may want to foster autonomy among employees — but don’t assume it’s always in their best interest to figure things out for themselves.
  • Ask team members about their communication preferences, and adjust as needed. Find this out early with new team members to start things off right.
  • When in doubt, err on the side of over-communication. This demonstrates empathy and a desire to see the team succeed — and research shows that employees overwhelmingly prefer over- to under-communication from leaders.
  • Check in more frequently with team members, add a few extra bullet points to that email, or extend the meeting by a few minutes to make sure everyone knows what’s going on.

Show employees you support them by increasing the amount of communication you deliver — they, you, and your whole organization will benefit. Because sometimes, less isn’t more.

Explore More Stories

May 17, 2024

How Thinking like an Artist Can Improve Your Business Decisions

Business decisions need to be purely rational and data-driven, right? Not quite. It turns out emotions play a much bigger role in successful decision-making than we realize.
Insights in Action Baba Shiv
March 22, 2024

Strategic (Re)Thinking: Is Your Approach to Organizational Strategy Holding You Back?

Making your organizational strategy an iterative, evolving priority can help you compete and adapt to rapid change. And conversations and communication may be the key.
Strategic (Re)Thinking
March 21, 2024

Inspiring Change: An Insider’s Look at LEAD Me2We

In this Q&A story, we bring together three remarkable voices to share their insights on the Stanford LEAD Online Business Program and the participant-led, in-person event, Me2We.
Stanford LEAD past participants engage in Me2We activities