In my early days as a CEO, I thought stress was inevitable. Every day I came to work and dealt with massive amounts of it, and even though it was difficult, I thought that level of stress was just a part of being an executive at a company. But after a few years, I was desperate for a way to manage it.
What if I told you that now, almost 20 years later, I’m relatively stress-free at work? The truth is, I am. Obviously, I still have stressful days at the office. The difference is that I now have the tools to handle them, which makes my professional life that much more enjoyable.
Because I’ve been cultivating these tools for several years, I want to share them with others who may be in the same spot I was when just starting out as a leader.
It all starts with the environment you work in. This may seem obvious to some. It was even obvious to me when I first started my business. What people often miss is that sometimes our environmental stressors aren’t surface level. We’re so used to them that we struggle to realize they’re even stressors in the first place.
One major stressor that most people overlook is ineffective communication. Not only does it add stress to a busy CEO’s plate, but it increases the entire company’s stress as well. When a team lacks communication skills, they are often too scared to ask for help — like when they are going to miss a deadline. Or they may not know how to begin a project in the first place because they didn’t receive adequate instructions to do so. These are just a few of the detriments ineffective communication can bring to a workplace.
The good news is, communication can be easily taught and implemented into the everyday workplace. It may be a slow process at first, but over time, your team will become communication experts, and the major environmental stressors will melt away.
The following are three communication standards I’ve set at my business and how you can apply them.
1. Create detailed work instructions.
Create work instructions for absolutely every task, no matter how insignificant it may seem, and update the work instructions any time the process for a task changes. This may seem extreme, but think about it like this: when a new employee is hired, chances are they don’t know how to complete most tasks to your company’s standards. Even if they’ve held a similar position in the past, they likely completed similar tasks differently.
If you have work instructions typed up and revised as needed, you avoid any potential miscommunication; new employees will know how to follow each and every process, and they’ll know exactly which step in the process they’re on when they have questions. This makes it much easier for other team members to help them when issues arise. It’s a remarkably effective system, and once you have it up and running, it takes very little time or effort to maintain.
Ultimately, having detailed work instructions is your golden ticket to streamlining processes and training new hires.
2. Encourage self-advocacy.
As a leader, you’re responsible for delegating. Truthfully, delegating is more complex than simply assigning tasks. If your team isn’t comfortable communicating with you from the get-go after you delegate, confusion can arise, resources can go missing and team members may struggle to get the projects completed by their deadlines.
That said, when you add effective communication to the mix, especially in the initial stages, delegation becomes a much smoother process. It will ultimately require an expectation that your team members should advocate for themselves.
For example, one best practice I follow is to ask my team members certain questions when I delegate a task. I may ask, “What do you need to be successful at this project?” This creates a collaborative environment and allows my team members to relax and feel safe and secure when they ultimately need to come to me for resources or questions.
In other words, when we let our team members know from the get-go that they can rely on us for support while completing a project, they will become better at advocating for themselves by communicating their needs. It’s a win for everyone involved.
3. Be flexible.
If you want to promote an environment of effective communication for your team, flexibility is a must. What I mean by that is your team members need to feel comfortable asking difficult questions. This starts at the leadership level.
Have you ever had an adverse reaction to a team member asking for a deadline extension? Maybe you thought they had more than enough time to complete the project, so you became frustrated by their request. Put yourself in the team member’s shoes. They may already feel uncomfortable asking for an extension, and when they receive an adverse reaction, they may think twice about asking for something in the future, even if they really need it.
When your team member comes to you asking for help, frame it as an opportunity for growth. What can you do to improve future processes so the next deadline is met? Work together with the team member to find out what processes aren’t working. This will empower the team member and enhance their professional development, and it will keep a positive environment in the office.
As a leader, you have the power to facilitate an environment of effective communication.
Use this list to get started right away.
This post was originally published on Forbes.com. For more communication tips, check out my online course, The Communication Code for Customer Service.