Dragons' Den contender: how managers can communicate better

10 min read  |   11 June, 2024   By Claire Brumby

Claire Brumby headshot image for guest blog

In this guest blog, Dragons’ Den contender & award-winning entrepreneur Claire Brumby shares the essential steps to effective communication in the workplace. From difficult conversations, to navigating emotional intelligence – we've got you covered.Claire understands the impact of communication and working relationships and how this can help shape an SME for success.

Communication is the foundation for how we interact in our businesses and in our lives. That’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about communication. The better and more refined we can become at speaking, listening, and engaging in communication, the greater success we can achieve, particularly as leaders and managers.

That’s why I’m sharing my insights, to help you enhance what you’re probably already doing in the workplace – but along with how you can become more impactful, with the tools you need to do to get there.


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Let’s begin with difficult conversations

When it comes to workplace dynamics, conversations can be challenging - usually because of a lack of effective communication from the outset.

During a webinar I recently joined Breathe for as a speaker, we ran a poll to ask, ‘What conversations do you find difficult in the workplace?’ From the poll, 65% of the audience said that they find dealing with personality clashes in their team difficult, whilst 41% answered saying they have difficulty to say no to their line manager or colleagues and 35% said they find disagreeing with their manager a difficult conversation.

When you have a personality clash, it’s often because the communication isn’t there from the start – but you can create conversation on how people communicate and shape the habits of your people, and this can really help.

People can also easily overestimate and underestimate conversations. Sometimes we overestimate conversations and stress out about what the outcome could be, letting things fester.

Then we can also underestimate it, by simply speaking our minds and not considering the person we’re conversing with.

When thinking about different personalities, it can also sometimes feel like a personal and emotional attack - after all, we’re only human. This can often be where clashes come into play. Two people not getting along can be a real challenge.

But by implementing effective communication as a standard – these things can be overcome. So, consider why two people aren’t getting along in the workplace. What’s the outcome you want to get to? Working out the root problem will help you find the solution. Speak to the people involved to understand what’s going on and talk to them about the effect or impact this can have on the business, team morale and individuals.

Remember, it’s about bringing it back to respect and respecting others (no matter what your/their differences are). Difficult conversations are essential for people to be able to move forward and carry on delivering great work. It’s important to consider that you can deliver ‘bad news’ or ‘bad feedback’, if it’s factual, respectful and you are taking into account the person’s feelings – after all, this is your role as a manager.


The importance of effective communication

One of my favourite quotes is from George Bernard Shaw:

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that has taken place.”

This comes down to people not saying what they want to say or avoiding that difficult conversation, which is only difficult in our mind. That’s what creates the illusion, where we think a conversation has taken place. But has it taken place with the clarity required? Has it been delivered in the way we expected?



Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the message has been delivered as you’ve expected it to. It’s a good idea to review & think about whether a difficult conversation happened the way you planned it to. You'll learn a lot from yourself, as well as from asking your team to reflect and work like this too.

The impact on communication with team dynamics can be good and bad. If there isn’t clarity or a joint mission of where you’re going, then there will be differences in the team. Align your goals first.


Managing negative mindsets

I like to think about Patrick Lencioni’s 5 key behaviours every team needs to succeed: trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and results.

Having effective and meaningful conversations means you need all these elements as a base. If you know someone is going to be negative towards a difficult conversation, you probably need to be working on trust. Bring it back to basics and consider your foundations as a manager and have these as your fundamentals, to help understand your team members and for them to understand you.

Some people who are more negative are usually more resistant to change because they’re scared of it, so this can cause them concern that manifests itself in different ways. Most people don’t come to work being negative, something has probably happened to make them feel this way.

It’s important to talk through any worries or troubles a task is bringing to an individual and listen, so you can figure out how to get to the bottom of the issue.

By engaging in open dialogue and actively listening to employees' concerns, managers can alleviate any apprehensions and support productive discussions.



Embracing constructive feedback

It’s probably not too much of a surprise that when the Harvard Business Review published surveys focusing on development, this shared that 44% of managers believe giving development feedback is stressful and difficult.

What can you do to overcome this fear feeling? Think about reframing feedback as constructive feedback, rather than negative – usually it’s our mind that makes us feel like we’re delivering something negative. This way of working can help foster growth and development. Normalising feedback, both positive and constructive, establishes a culture of continuous improvement.



The thing with feedback is that everyone needs to start normalising it more. Positive feedback helps us pave the way for those more difficult conversations and constructive feedback.

As a great manager and a great leader, don’t just jump in and deliver feedback when you need to get someone back on track – it's also about how we share different types of feedback. By showing vulnerability and transparency as a leader, you can build a foundation and respect, which can help you to deliver the more difficult feedback as a manager.

Remember – feedback is observational, factual, timely and constructive, otherwise it’s just your opinion of something that’s not going to progress your conversation, your talent, you as a manager, your team or organisation.



Remember and encourage your teams to share feedback both ways, it needs to work up and down within an organisation. Encouraging reciprocal feedback within teams promotes a culture of open communication and mutual support.


Understanding different communication styles

Active listening - a foundational skill

A good thing to keep in mind is reverse engineering when it comes to active listening. Think about how you feel when you’re not being heard – it feels rubbish, right?

For example, asking “Are you alright?” could be received as very surface level, likely to be responded to with something like “Yeah, fine”. But, as managers, we need to ask our people meaningful questions about how they find their role and really get to know them.

In these instances, you’ll hear things that you may not have picked up before. You’ll hear things through language, tone and see things through non-verbal communication, in the way of body language. Sometimes these things aren’t in sync and can conflict.

When someone is saying something that doesn’t match up to how they are presenting themselves – for example, they might be saying something positive, but their arms are folded, legs are crossed, and their body is closed off. We need to remember to listen to understand, not to just hear the words. Active listening enables managers to understand employees' perspectives and address their needs effectively.


Clear and concise messaging

Effective communication is key to avoiding misunderstandings. To make sure your message is clear, ask questions like, "Do you understand what I’m saying?" or "Can I just make sure this is coming across right?" This shows you care about clear communication and are open to feedback. Remember to listen actively and respond thoughtfully, your goal is mutual understanding.

Think about your tone of voice and how you paraphrase too. Keep your tone friendly and non-confrontational to make your questions feel genuine rather than critical. Try summarising what the other person has said, like, "So, what I’m hearing is that you’re concerned about the project timeline, right?" This shows you’re listening and gives a chance for clarification and can help improve the conversation.

Clear and concise messaging is just as important in writing, whether it’s emails, reports, or texts. But for the trickier conversations and sensitive topics, it's best to discuss them in person, over the phone, or via virtual meetings first. These direct conversations allow for immediate feedback and clarification, reducing the risk of misinterpretation that can happen with written words.


Empathy and emotional intelligence

Being openly empathetic makes people feel like you hear and understand them. This is what helps to build strong relationships and promote a supportive work environment.

By demonstrating empathy and emotional intelligence, managers can build trust and rapport with their teams. When managers and leaders embrace these qualities, this can build trust within their teams and encourage collaboration.

Managers can practice empathy and emotional intelligence by actively listening to their team members, showing genuine interest in their concerns and offering support when needed. They should strive to understand different perspectives, acknowledge emotions, and respond with compassion. Throw providing regular feedback and recognising individual contributions into the mix, and this can bring a sense of value and belonging to your people and team too.


Putting it into motion

If there’s ever a crisis, you want to implement a way of working or something needs to change within your team or business – by bringing together the above strategies and tactics, you’ll already have buy-in if you use the skills in your management.

Effective communication builds trust, boosts teamwork, and promotes a culture of ongoing improvement. When managers focus on good communication skills, they can handle tough conversations, motivate their teams, and lead the organisation to success.

Remember that you’re working with people, so make time to work on your people skills and make time for them too.


Author: Claire Brumby

Claire Brumby is an award-winning  food entrepreneur & esteemed speaker. After surviving a life-threatening illness, Claire founded a multi-award winning healthy snacking brand. From workshops, Claire's best-selling book, her pivotal pitch on Dragons' Den, to meeting royalty at St James' Palace, Claire has a wealth of experiences.

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