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Managers' communication skills as perceived by their subordinates
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Modern businesses are continuously confronted by unrelenting change which is accommodated by precipitous competition. In South Africa‘s volatile economic and business landscape, competent managers and their subordinates are often the difference between business success and failure. These businesses are increasingly becoming more diverse. It is the managers‘ task to not only harvest the potential for innovation that emerges from diversity, but also to minimise the potential strife that it may bring. Diversity can be in terms of a variety of races, genders, ages, nationalities, cultures, sexual orientations, social classes, educational levels, generations and many more factors such as business sizes, industries and sectors. Effective task execution is dependent on an extensive number of managerial competencies, including but not limited to communication, creative problem solving, teamwork, interpersonal relations, self-management, decision-making, networking, global awareness and strategic action. Communication is one of the most important managerial competencies for effective management. Active listening is the single most important skill for effective communication. Additionally, other essential skills include feedback, message sending skills and the ability to deal with (general as well as listening and feedback phase related) interference. Managers‘ attainment of an effective and efficient communication process is conducive to their understanding of the various contributing aspects/skills of effective communication. Moreover, they are required to comprehend the various perceptions, perspectives, preferences and pre-dispositions of various groups of subordinates. Thus, the purpose of this study was to investigate how subordinates from various industries, educational backgrounds and generations perceive their managers‘ communication skills in South Africa. The researcher used a quantitative descriptive design to achieve the study‘s objectives. Further, a non-probability, convenience sample was implemented and 931 useable responses were obtained via a self-administered questionnaire. The questionnaire began with a short preamble which was followed by two sections. The first section gathered data regarding the subordinates‘ demographic information and the second section, which comprised a five-point Likert scale with only the end points labelled as strongly agree and strongly disagree, measured the subordinates‘ perception of their managers‘ various selected communication skills – which culminated in their overall communication competencies. Furthermore, the questionnaire was found to be both reliable and valid. This dissertation is presented in the article format and its primary objective was reached by achieving various secondary objectives which were spread through the three articles that make up this study. The first article determined managers‘ message sending skills and their ability to deal with general interference in the communication process as perceived by their subordinates in the manufacturing, retail and services industries. In the second article, the effectiveness of managers‘ listening and feedback skills as well as their ability to deal with interference during the listening and feedback phases of the communication process as perceived by subordinates with varying educational backgrounds was determined. The third article determined managers‘ overall communication competencies (which comprised the five selected aspects of effective communication) as perceived by subordinates from various generations. The findings of the first article revealed that subordinates perceived their managers‘ message sending skills and ability to deal with general interference as slightly above average. Furthermore, subordinates from manufacturing businesses perceived their managers‘ message sending skills and ability to deal with interference to be slightly better than those from retail, whereas there were no statistical differences between these industries and the services industry. The results presented in the second article showed that subordinates perceived their managers‘ listening skills, feedback skills and ability to deal with interference during the listening and feedback phases of the communication process as marginally above mediocre. Additionally, managers‘ listening and feedback skills were perceived to be better by graduate level subordinates than by those with only a grade 12 qualification. Subordinates with a post-graduate degree also had better perceptions of these skills than those with a grade 12 qualification did, although not statistically significant. Finally, in the third article it was found that subordinates perceived their managers‘ overall communication competencies to be barely above average. Further, where the differences between generations were statistically significant, Baby Boomers and Generation Xers constantly had better perceptions of their managers‘ communication skills than Generation Yers did. Though not always statistically significant, it seemed that the two older generations consistently had better perceptions of their managers‘ skills and overall communication competence than the younger ones did. The findings of the abovementioned articles led to numerous recommendations. Regarding messages sending, managers are advised to promote trust in their interactions with subordinates by using nonverbal communication; especially within the retail industry. Pertaining to their ability to deal with general interference, it is recommended that retail industry managers specifically focus on refraining from being preoccupied with other matters during their conversations with subordinates. Recommendations of this study also included that managers pay particularly close attention to subordinates‘ emotions by considering their non-verbal cues such as speech tempo and body language when listening to conversations; especially while communicating with grade 12 level subordinates. With regards to managers‘ feedback skills, it is recommended that they show interest in the outcome of the feedback process, specifically by setting mutually accepted objectives with grade 12 level subordinates prior to commencing the process. Regarding managers‘ ability to deal with interference during the listening and feedback phases of the communication process, it is recommended that managers avoid information overload by determining the core issues that need to be discussed during the feedback phase and then only focusing on them. Lastly it is recommended that managers that function in generationally diverse businesses actively seek out subordinates from younger generation during the communication process. The key to this lies in communicating with them in manners which they prefer. Thus, managers are advised to consciously engage Generation Y subordinates by integrating information and communication technologies into their interactions. This will ultimately improve managers‘ overall communication competencies. This study‘s contribution is to make managers aware of possible difficulties they may experience during the communication process regarding the five selected aspects of effective communication. In conclusion, effective communication is the key to promoting and sustaining business success in a constantly changing business environment. If managers of all businesses where they communicate with subordinates implement the findings of this study, they will stand a better chance to achieve their managerial goals and gain a competitive business advantage