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3 Management Communication Skills for Positive Employee Relations

The most effective management training program that I delivered in my career had a unique primary goal: to have the majority of those in the class decide, through self-reflection, that becoming a manager was not the right choice for them. It was not an easy goal with a class consisting of high potential employees who were early in their careers and largely focused on compensation. Through discussion of employee relations matters and the managers’ associated responsibility, many decided it was too much work and the thought of potentially being involved in litigation was not a welcome one. 

The root cause of many employee relations matters is poor communication. According to HR Acuity,[1] the employee relations function, in part, includes bringing the legal and emotional contract between employers and employees to life and managing in a way that nurtures the company’s culture and maintains healthy, lawful relations that align with the organization’s values and policies at every level. Good employee relations is about creating a culture that improves the employee experience, leads to higher employee satisfaction and, ultimately, results in increased employee retention; one of the top issues facing organizations today.

Employee relations are not successful without effective, ongoing communication. The best managers take the time to get to know each person on their team and develop trust. It’s the same way people develop and maintain any positive relationship. Three management communication skills that increase a manager’s success and decrease risk related to employee relations matters are as follows:

 Actively Listen to Each Employee

Take every opportunity to listen actively to each employee regarding their goals, values, and what they need to integrate and balance their work and personal lives. The most effective managers know when to stop talking and start listening. This is especially important when emotions are high, in team situations, and when employees are sharing ideas. Extreme emotions, such as anger, resentment, and excitement, warrant attention from a personal and a business standpoint. On a personal level, people feel acknowledged when others validate their feelings. Managers who ignore feelings can create distance between themselves and their employees, eroding the relationship and increasing risk for employee relations matters. Team environments can involve multiple personalities, complex dynamics, and competing agendas. By listening carefully, managers can ensure that everyone is working toward the same goal.[2]

Listening also helps managers identify and address conflicts early and facilitate healthy working relationships among team members. Many employee relations concerns begin with the employee feeling they were not heard.

Authentically Care About All Employees and Show Empathy

Authenticity and empathy are forms of communication that are not easily feigned. Most employees will see through a façade and then you will lose their trust. In my view for example, if you do not care about diversity, then do not become a manager as fostering an inclusive culture is more critical than ever. You place your organization at higher risk for employee relations complaints, demoralize those that are different than yourself, and will likely increase turnover and negatively impact your organization’s brand if diversity and inclusion are not high priorities. The ability of a manager to create a culture of open communication is key. The ‘word on the street’ regarding an organization’s brand is increasingly influential to prospective employees. Glassdoor employee reviews and their popularity online are an indicator as to how powerful an organization’s reputation can be.

“Empathy is the ability to perceive and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experiences of others. Those with high levels of empathy are skilled at understanding a situation from another person’s perspective and reacting with compassion. Empathy in the context of the workplace simply means that your people can establish true, empathetic connections with one another that enhance relationships and performance. Empathetic leadership means having the ability to understand the needs of others and being aware of their feelings and thoughts. Unfortunately, it has long been a soft skill that’s overlooked as a performance indicator. Research has shown that today’s successful leaders must be more ‘person-focused’ and able to work well with people from varying teams, departments, countries, cultures, and backgrounds.”[3]

The EEOC website notes that to help prevent lawsuits, companies should promote an inclusive culture in the workplace by fostering an environment of professionalism and respect for personal differences and foster open communication and early dispute resolution.[4]

Encourage employees to develop their own ideas on how to accomplish goals and be open to their perspective. Recognize that a flexible approach is needed. This openness and flexibility increase the employee’s self-confidence, their confidence in the manager, and ultimately, their confidence in the organization. Sending a message that you value diverse ideas can mitigate risk related to employee relations matters and ultimately increase the organization’s bottom line.

Provide Ongoing and Consistent Communication

Regular one-on-ones with two-way feedback can help managers evaluate results sooner when conversations are frequent and meaningful. Managers need employee feedback as well and should ask for it. Asking an employee a question such as “What can I do differently or more effectively to help you succeed?” signals that the one-on-one meeting is an information exchange, and that the employee’s view matters. Real-time, clear communication about what went well or did not go well, today or this week is more important in the long run than annual performance reviews. A mid-year and year-end performance review can reference ongoing conversations that happen throughout the year and provide documentation that is helpful if employee relations matters surface. However, they are not a replacement for ongoing communication. Try to imagine a personal relationship in which you have an annual performance discussion. It’s likely not the best way to foster a caring, empathetic, and productive relationship.

Standardizing practices, developing objective and clear goals, and communicating these standards routinely to employees helps mitigate future legal risk and enhances productive and respectful organizations. Honest, open, and ongoing communication helps develop trust - a cornerstone in strong manager-employee relationships.

Employers can help managers increase these skills through high-quality training that includes assisting managers in understanding their role in complaint investigations. Climate assessments also can assist employers in uncovering areas in which management skills need to improve to mitigate risk to the organization. These benefits can extend past the work environment to the employee’s health, relationships, and overall life, because they are human resources.


[1] HR Acuity, “What is Employee Relations?,” April 22, 2022,

[2] Joelle Jay, Ph.D., “Management Tools – On Communicating Well,” January 1, 2005,

[3] Center for Creative Leadership, Leading Effectively Articles, “The Importance of Empathy in the Workplace,” November 28, 2020,

[4] EEOC, Best Practices for Employers and Human Resources/EEO Professionals, “How To Prevent Race and Color Discrimination,”