It became quickly evident that things needed to change.

A few weeks ago, I conducted two full days of interpersonal skills and public speaking etiquette workshops.

The participants were selected from administration, corporate communication, human resources and other units in a globally ranked, double-accredited business school in Africa.

The workshops were critical to upgrading staffs’ communication skills in view of the customer-centric theme the organisation was championing in 2022.

Now the workshops were well-received and the engagement was exhilarating. More importantly, participants found the sessions valuable and were motivated to make changes. Two participants were kind to email me afterwards to show their appreciation.

But what was interesting about the workshops was what participants shared about their managers. From accounts about passive-aggressive bosses and supervisors who micromanage to ridiculous warnings that direct reports should not request further help, staff shared their tales of woe about current and previous bosses.

So, it was an invaluable opportunity when I was invited a week later to deliver a brief session on interpersonal communication for the managers and heads of units of the same organisation. I chose to focus my session on the best communication tactics to smoothen interpersonal tension, increase motivation, and boost team performance.

If you’re a manager or supervisor and need your direct reports to do their best work, then you must note the following:

1) Realise that you’re still a major reason for attrition

And this is still true despite the real need for work-life balance and flexible work arrangements in an almost post-pandemic world.

In this Washington Business Journal post that was published in October 2021 and sponsored by McKinsey  & Co, the interesting infographic below was shared.

Courtesy of McKinsey & Company

The three most important points from the infographic that should concern you are the following:

  • 52% of staff leave an organisation because they feel their managers don’t value them (versus 38% of you believing the decision to leave is based on compensation)
  • 64% would leave without a job offer in hand (so they’re damning the consequences and abandoning ship)
  • 51% leave because they feel ‘no sense of belonging’ (and since you don’t address this malaise, your inaction is fueling the flight)

Nevertheless, it’s naive to ignore other important reasons for team members leaving. These decisions might range from prioritising their families and looking after their mental health to starting businesses. There may also be other considerations beyond your control.

However, as I shared in my session, what is within your control is revising your interpersonal communication skills to reflect openness, warmth, and support. You can begin the process by being more empathetic and flexible. Your actions should demonstrate that direct reports are valued contributors to organisational goals – and not mere clogs in the productivity wheel.

No matter how modest the changes are initially, persevere, and they’ll go a long way.

2) Adopt the fundamentals of effective communication

You’d need to return to the pillars of effective communication.

In my two-day workshops for direct reports, they complained about ambiguous communication and delays in receiving feedback.

Effective business communication has evolved in the last eight-ten years. I know this because I’ve been blogging monthly for a decade and I’ve seen the shift. It has moved from complex communication, loathsome jargon, and long-winded discourse to simple, clear messages that inspire, motivate and galvanise people to action.

If you want to empower your teams and generate results, then you must adhere to the fundamentals below, which I always champion as my three rules of effective communication:

Rule #1: Know your audience

You must tweak your communication style to appeal to different subordinates and develop trust. Since personalities and backgrounds differ, adjusting your content and style for different team members is a smart way to connect with them on a one-on-one basis. One approach does not fit all.

Rule #2: Keep your communication simple, brief, and clear

Your direct reports need to quickly understand the mission and be clear on the specific actions they need to take to achieve goals. Skipping this stage will lead to ambiguity, misinterpretation of your messages, and delays in execution – not to talk of increasing frustration and stress.

Rule #3: Give timely and factual feedback

Giving prompt feedback based on facts will ensure that people are quickly informed on what’s working and what isn’t. As a result, they will adopt efficient methods to get the work done.

So as a manager, you first need to return to the fundamentals of effective communication. Then you must drive the implementation of these three rules in your unit and encourage team members to apply them consistently.

If you commit to the process, quicker turnaround time on tasks, increased collaboration/innovation, and improved productivity will follow.

3) Watch your nonverbal behaviours

Nonverbal behaviours are often ignored until an interpersonal conflict arises, and if left unchecked, they aggravate the simmering tension.

In my full-day workshops, direct reports shared their accounts of the behaviours of current and previous bosses/supervisors that caused dread, led to a loss of motivation, and caused them to disengage.

Some nonverbal faux pas to eliminate include:

i) Lack of eye contact

No matter how busy you are, accord your subordinates the respect they deserve and look at them when speaking. Nothing signals aloofness and power-play than tapping away at your laptop, eyes glued to your screen, while your uncomfortable colleague summons the courage to address a problematic issue.

Your lack of eye contact also communicates that you don’t value the other person’s presence (if it’s an in-person discussion) or time (if it’s a virtual meeting).

If you must finish something urgently, then politely inform your direct report and apologise for the distraction before quickly completing the task.

ii) Curt/confrontational tone, high pitch, and loud volume

The way you speak or respond to your colleagues can make them defensive or cause them to retreat. They then withhold actions that will benefit your department.

Speak with a high pitch, or use a loud, discourteous tone often when instructing your direct reports, and your delivery might trigger some retaliation. The result might be a verbal outburst from the aggrieved party who tries to remedy the perceived attack. There’s so much that people can tolerate, even from a manager, before they blow up. And you’d never know when they’ve had enough and react. Or worse, they might bottle up their frustration and then retaliate in other passive-aggressive ways.

Pair a rude, biting tone with profanity, harsh remarks, or sarcasm, and the situation escalates and takes on a serious dimension. For example, if you’re supervising staff from other cultures, your approach would be perceived as discriminatory, racist or both – which may result in accusations of harassment and threats of legal action.

Furthermore, it’s impossible to get results or enjoy discretionary efforts from team members who feel maltreated on an interpersonal level.

So watch your tone, pitch, and volume. Or don’t be surprised when work stalls under vague pretexts and projects are delayed or poorly completed.

iii) Standoffish gestures

While gestures should not be considered in absolutes—for example, folded arms don’t always mean arrogance—it’s wise to know that some gestures have negative connotations.

Case in point: pointing at someone when speaking is considered rude in certain African cultures and can be triggering. But in the West, it might not have the same effect. In the video below, Mark Bowden, a world-renowned body language expert, and I discuss the cultural implications of pointing fingers, being animated, and invading space. It’s a fascinating take on the differences between African and Western perceptions of those nonverbal behaviours.

Generally, ‘closed’ or cold gestures (arms folded across chest, hands in pockets etc.) or your hands not being visible (e.g. when ‘cut off’ by a barrier such as a screen, lectern or other props) may lead to a perception that you’re not trustworthy – since you appear ‘closed off’. On the flip side, ‘open’ gestures such as open palms and hands communicate an openness that makes you seem credible and approachable.

When communicating with your direct reports, be mindful of cultural interpretations of certain gestures, and adjust your body language accordingly.

Don’t alienate team members with your inconsiderate gestures.


The key takeaway in my session on communication for managers/supervisors was that they needed to make changes in their communication style if they wanted results. Fortunately, they were open to the recommendations I made.

As a manager, it’s good business sense to retain your talented direct reports. Therefore, upgrade your communication style to include the pointers I’ve provided in this article so that you set your teams for success.

Above all, realise that what your subordinates want from you is simple but profound:

Treat them the way you’d like to be treated by your supervisor.

When you value their contributions and communicate empathy, your team members will feel seen, heard, and valued.

And they’d achieve great things under your excellent supervision.

Breaking News: Global Gurus ranked Lucille Ossai #5 in communication for 2022!

Global Gurus, the prestigious research organisation, ranked me the #5 communication guru in 2022! I made my first appearance in the ranking this year.

You may recall that in this post, I mentioned challenging the poor representation of Black professionals in Global Gurus’ ranking. In response, they provided a nomination link and advised me to share it in my networks so people could vote for me. Since I met other stringent criteria (being a published author and sharing original thought leadership pieces in my field etc.), I figured I should give it a shot. Then a few weeks ago, I was informed I was selected!

Below is the email from Global Gurus informing me of my position in the ranking:

And below is the cool banner that is now proudly displayed on this blog:

Check out the screenshots of my profile in the communication ranking below:

View the complete list of all 30 communication gurus for 2022 here.

Thank you to all who voted for me. I appreciate your support. And I hope I can count on you when the voting cycle for next year begins in the last quarter of 2022.

Over to you:

Do you need help in boosting your interpersonal communication skills to get results? Sign up here for my free quarterly newsletters and learn best practices. You’ll receive my evergreen resource on giving persuasive presentations when you sign up. Ensure you download that document and refer to it before any high-stakes presentation or speech.

If you enjoyed this post, don’t rush off just yet. Please remember to:

  • Share this article in your social networks by clicking on the icons below.
  • Sign up for blog email updates so that you are immediately notified via email when a new blog post is published. Don’t miss any more articles!
  • Fill the ‘Contact/Book Lucille Ossai’ form in the menu above to let us know how we can help you solve your communication problems.


N.B: First image is courtesy of Wallusy via Pixabay.  Infographic is courtesy of Mckinsey & Company. Second image is courtesy of Mohamed Hassan via Pixabay. Screenshot of Global Gurus’ email is courtesy of Lucille Ossai. The Global Gurus’ banner and Lucille Ossai’s profile are courtesy of Global Gurus.

Got an opinion? Please share it below.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.