Extremes are revealing. Pushing something as far as it can go shows what it is made of. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of things pushed to their limits, and people have experienced extraordinary change in almost every dimension of life. These have been tough times, and through them we have new, hard-won insight. But key among these, we’ve clearly come to see what people need – beyond their basic biological needs – to survive and adapt, to perform and thrive.
In our work, we advise clients that, just as in their personal lives, employees need human connection and belonging. They need to feel safe, and they need a sense of purpose. And communication is essential to ensuring that these needs are met. Through any change, but in particular through challenging times like what we are experiencing, organizations need to give priority to communicating with all members of their workforce.
To connect requires seeing and interacting with others, and feeling like someone cares about you, that you are valued and included and that you have a sense of belonging with your people. It is a core psychological need, essential to mental health and satisfaction in life.
Communication accomplishes this by bridging the distance between us. Leaders must seek opportunities to share real and human moments with their teams. They need to tell the shared story of the people in the organization in ways that are emotionally resonant and authentic. Finally, they must reflect on where their team feels most comfortable being themselves, creating and amplifying those occasions to their teams, and they must think about where their people are today – on which channels, particularly digital and social – and grow familiar with being themselves on there, too. It’s a worthwhile stretch and necessary for connecting when teams are working remotely.
As a result of the pandemic, many people have had their sense of safety frayed. They didn’t feel confident they could care for themselves and their families, a burden that has left them feeling anxious and exhausted. More than this, at their workplace, people need to feel a sense of psychological safety that lets them be fully present and engaged, lets them demonstrate the vulnerability required to learn new things, and lets them take the risks required for innovation.
Because we are such social beings, safety is created together. In the workplace, trust in leadership is at its foundation. It grows when words and actions align with our shared values, and when we can see that leaders are focused on the things that matter.
Communication is essential in building trust between any two people and is essential for leaders to prioritize. As Peter Drucker once wrote: “Organizations are no longer built on force but trust. The existence of trust between people does not necessarily mean that they like one another. It means that they understand one another. Taking responsibility for relationships is, therefore, an absolute necessity.”
Leaders must own this responsibility and communicate accordingly. They must be seen to be connected to their people and to their shared values. They must demonstrate respect and care in their relationships, showing both decisiveness and strength of character alongside their empathy and vulnerability. They must create clarity of action and expectations, as well as set and keep commitments, while being open to feedback, negotiation, and compromise.
Purpose requires that people feel their lives and efforts are meaningful. They need to feel confident that their role contributes and that they help make things better in doing so. Senior leaders increasingly understand the power of purpose within their organizations and have rightfully made articulating and connecting employees to that purpose a top priority.
Communication creates the context for understanding the work we do and our sense of agency within it. It defines a line of sight from our individual efforts to our impact and helps create a shared sense of accomplishment and progress. When times are hardest, the knowledge that their work matters builds resilience that sustains the team and their performance.
Communication is essential
How we communicate elevates our spirit. It draws on our creativity and connects us through the most fundamental parts of our humanity to make it resonant, emotionally stirring, and inspiring.
These are challenging times for people and organizations, but we have grown through all we’ve accomplished.
Change pushes things toward extremes, but every change that is experienced and overcome as groups of people requires a sense of connection, safety, and purpose. Fostering this sense is more necessary than ever before.
Communication is essential to our individual resilience and hope and to the greater strength of our communities. It is essential for the human spirit.