Published: 20 June 2017

When charity communicators can’t communicate

Charity communicators work at the heart of their organisations, developing internal and external messaging, and helping to develop its culture and brand reputation. So why am I hearing so much about people’s lack of communication skills?

I’m not talking about the ability to craft or deliver external messages, but about their personal communications style.

As communicators, we spend much of the day in face to face meetings, telephone or email, in addition to our role as formal communicators. If we get it wrong, poor communication can impact on employee morale, stress levels and health, and will render any internal channels redundant. The 2016 Labour Force Survey shows 9.9m working days are lost to stress. I’d say a lot of stress is down to poor communication, so being a good communicator isn’t just good for your colleagues, it’s cost effective too.

There are some common themes I’m asked about in my workshops and coaching sessions, and some simple changes you can make in your approach to get better results:

Help, my boss’ communication style is terrible. What should I do?

You may assume that just because your boss is a communications professional or a CEO, they will automatically come with great interpersonal communication skills. However, if you’re struggling to see eye to eye, it might be down to your different communication styles. For example, is your boss a listener or a reader? The best way to improve your relationship between you and your boss, is to try to figure out their communication style, and tailor yours accordingly. For some practical tips, see this handy article.

Leaders play a vital role in an organisation and can champion effective communication. Recognising communication skills as a core competency for managers, and measuring communication performance in annual reviews can help encourage take up of essential training. Instead of getting bogged down in the range of digital tools we can use to communicate, leaders need to think about ways to improve their interpersonal communication style, as well as that of their teams. One simple step they can take towards this is recognising interpersonal communication as a core competency for managers, measuring their performance and investing in training.

How do I get my manager to listen to me?

The best way to get anyone to listen to you is to show that you’re listening to them. People want to be heard. As someone who often works with organisations on an interim or consulting basis, I’ve learned to build rapport quickly, mainly through active listening. Active listening does not mean simply being quiet and paying attention. There are many ways to show you’re really listening to what someone is saying, and not just mentally preparing your response, which is what many people do. If you can develop this skill, it will see you far in your career.

You can find out more about active listening from the CIPD.

My boss criticises, blames, humiliates or shouts at me. How do I deal with this?

We like to think charities are less prone to issues like bullying, since many people are in it for the good cause. However anecdotal evidence from those working in the sector indicates otherwise.

There is a fine line between this type of behaviour and bullying, and only a person in any given situation can make that type of judgement call. How often are they doing this? Is it a one-off, or regular behaviour? Have you expressed how you feel about this to your boss?

The pressures of leading an organisation or team, especially during times of high stress, meeting targets, or a lack of self-awareness can negatively affect someone’s leadership style. And what’s acceptable to one person isn’t to another. So if it’s appropriate to the situation, give your boss a chance, and provide direct feedback. State the behaviour, how you feel about it, then say what you’d prefer. For example:

When you raise your voice, I feel stressed/anxious. In future I’d prefer if you didn’t raise your voice.

You may need to repeat yourself a few times before things change. However, if you are being continually ignored, or think you are being bullied, seek support from your HR department or, if you don’t have one, consider a mentor.

However, if it’s your CEO, or if dysfunctional communication or bullying is being accepted by your organisation, you could be in a toxic workplace, and you may wish to consult ACAS for more support.

Send me your communication challenges and questions @dawnlneville.


Dawn Neville, director, Neville Consulting

Dawn Neville is a strategic communications and change management consultant and founder/director of Neville Consulting Ltd. She has almost 20 years experience of consulting, speaking and training in communications and change management.