Two-way communication: The key to organizational trust.

Editor’s note: Our blog posts often focus on employment law questions that arise after an employee/employer dispute has surfaced. This week, we thought it’d be interesting to take a look at employment practices that can help employers avoid lawsuits altogether. To do so, we invited Audra Buras, an expert in business development, organizational communication, and corporate trust.

Lawsuit prevention begins with improving relationships. The key to doing so is increasing trust within your organization. Organizations need to embrace and utilize two-way communication. More often than not, two-way communication is most effective when applied to manager-employee interactions. The best managers understand that successful communication is not linear. Rather, good communication requires a circular process.

The Models of Communication

A basic, linear communication model (Model 1.1) only works in one direction, a message goes from the sender to the receiver, or from the manager to the employee. Managers that use this type of one-way interfacing with their employees are more likely to experience employee dissatisfaction, as well as much lower levels of employee engagement.

Model 1.1

A slightly more effective model of manager-employee communication includes feedback (Model 1.2).

Model 1.2

However, individuals that exercise comprehensive and skillful communication in the two-way model (Model 1.3) are more likely to influence others and successfully manage their employees. This directly impacts employee satisfaction within the organization.

Model 1.3

The most effective managers pay very close attention to messages being sent to them as they communicate with others. This highly effective method of two-way communication helps to build trust and empower employees. Most employees that consider themselves engaged with work are very pleased with the relationship they have with their boss. ((Gallup, State of the American Workplace (2013), available at For this reason, happy employees typically do not sue their employers.

Implementing Two-Way Communication

The two-way concept is simple in theory yet seemingly difficult in practice. This is evident due to the fact that 70% of American employees consider themselves to be disengaged from work. ((Id.)) Yet, of the other 30% of employees that are engaged with their work, 74% agree or strongly agree that they trust their manager. ((BlissingWhite, Employee Engagement: Research Update (January 2013), available at So it’s safe to assume that the majority of American workers are not happy with their managers, and that more managers need to be conducting two-way communication.

Having trust amongst staff is critical for successful management and implementation of organizational goals. Managers that develop an awareness of trust and how to obtain it, have greater success engaging their employees. Again, this can be accomplished with strong two-way communication. When executed properly two-way communication can strengthen manager-employee interactions.

Currently, 71% of employees feel that managers do not spend enough time explaining goals and plans. ((Gallup, supra, note 1.)) Evidently, most managers need to develop their listening skills and enact the two-way communication model in order to build trust with their employees. Intrinsically, this will build trust within the organization, which will help to preclude most employment litigation.

Organizations that develop a trusting environment are typically more productive, innovative, competitive, profitable, and effective. Trust across staff, especially between managers and employees, will improve collective performance by encouraging teamwork, cooperation, risk-taking, increasing the quantity and quality of information, and improving problem solving.

Benefits of Two-Way Communication

When individuals work within a trusting climate they are more productive—and, once again, less likely to sue their employer—because they: ((Michael Z. Hackman & Craig E. Johnson, Leadership: A Communication Perspective (5th Ed. 2009).))

  • Experience higher job satisfaction.
  • Enjoy better relationships.
  • Stay focused on tasks.
  • Feel committed to group projects.
  • Sacrifice for the greater organizational good.
  • And are willing to go beyond their job description to assist coworkers.

Other Factors to Create Organizational Trust

Creating a trusting climate is imperative to organizational success. Along with two-way communication, there are five main components to building organizational trust: ((Id.))

  • Competence. The extent to which leaders (managers), coworkers, and the organization as a whole are viewed as effective.
  • Openness and Honesty. The extent to which the amount, accuracy, and sincerity of communication is perceived as appropriate.
  • Concern for Employees. The extent to which feelings of caring, empathy, tolerance, and concern for safety are exhibited.
  • Reliability. The extent to which leaders (managers), coworkers, and the organization as a whole is perceived as consistent and dependable.
  • Identification. The extent to which we share common goals, norms, values, and beliefs with those associated with the organization’s culture.

Final Thoughts

Naturally, the two-way communication model will enhance a manager’s ability to construct a stronger, more trusting environment within the organization. This will help to generate the five components of crafting organizational trust. When managers effectively utilize two-way communication they will help to develop the tenets of building organizational trust. This will lead to higher levels of employee engagement, employee satisfaction, and with any luck, lessen the amount of employment lawsuits.