How Communication Can Impact Employee Motivation

Author: Alvin Plexico, Ph.D., online faculty Brian Lamb School of Communication

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” This quote often attributed to George Bernard Shaw serves as a stark reminder of how important, yet misunderstood communication is. Trying to understand how communication influences motivation can be a little confusing, but there’s a practical approach that can help us appreciate how important effective communication is to motivation.

How many times have you heard a leader say something like, “I don’t understand why our employees are confused about (fill in the blank).

“I sent an e-mail.”

or

“I talked about this during our meeting last month.”

or

“It’s posted on our website.”

or

(some other form of communication the leader believes is sufficient for getting the word out to employees).

I think you get the idea, and perhaps you’ve been guilty of overestimating the effectiveness of your own communication. Here’s a clue that I use when monitoring my own communication as a leader: if my team is confused or unsure about the task, my communication (or lack thereof) is most likely the cause. Understanding this, leads to three questions:

1. What is my audience’s preferred method of communication?

Remember, it’s what motivates them that matters, not what’s easiest for me. Author and aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh is quoted as saying, “Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.” Is my communication stimulating like a nice shot of caffeine or is it more like cold, weak coffee?

2. What is the most effective way to communicate this specific message in a way that will motivate my employees?

According to acclaimed motivational speaker Ziz Ziglar, “In many ways effective communication begins with mutual respect, communication that inspires, encourages others to do their best.” In other words, motivating employees begins with respect. This mutual respect helps guide me to the best communication method.

3. How will I know if my communication was effective and motivating?

I often ask for open and direct feedback, which can be very enlightening. This, of course requires a great deal of trust between employee and leader, and building this trust takes time. I also evaluate the effectiveness of our team as a whole to identify what we’re doing well and what areas we need to improve. The key differential is most-often my ability to communicate in a way that motivates our employees, because motivational communication leads to action.  

This leads me to my final quote for this topic, which I’ll share from Cicero, “We should be as careful of our words as our actions.”  

Learn More
Alvin Plexico, Ph.D. is a member of the online faculty of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

About the Author
As a lifelong learner, Dr. Plexico employs more than 20 years of experience in worldwide corporate communications leading teams responsible for media relations, internal information, strategic communications, web content management and social media. He currently serves as the National Director for U.S. Navy Media Outreach where he leads teams that coordinate with operational units worldwide sharing information about the U.S. Navy, its mission, and relevance to national security. A 22-year Navy career included service as a Pentagon Press Officer, a Spokesperson for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and the Director of Communication for the Center for Career Development. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management from Texas Tech University, a Master’s Degree in Communication from the University of Oklahoma, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Organizational Leadership from Northcentral University. Alvin enjoys connecting with other lifelong learners through his blog at www.drplexico.com.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.