One of the most common complaints among employees centers around a breakdown in communication with their direct supervisor. They don’t know what is expected of them. They don’t realize they may be under-performing. They feel unsure about how to ask for help. Their supervisor doesn’t seem to care about them or their success.

When managers are presented with this feedback, they’re usually shocked, and make statements like: “I was very clear on what I expected,” or “my team knows how much I care.” So why the disconnect? As David Mann notes, “It’s more about what they’ll hear and not what you’ll say.” Solid communication is arguably the most vital skill a manager brings to the table. Here are some strategies to create better communication between management and staff.

Delivery is relaxed and encourages conversation. Your goal is to facilitate dialogue to reach an understanding.

Body language is open and attentive. The right body language encourages a better response.

Tone is calm and confident. Remove anger, blame, or panicked language from your delivery.

Pacing is measured. Leave pauses to allow the employee to comment or interject.

Allow for discussion. If the employee presents a reason for their performance for which you weren’t prepared, hear the employee out and ask numerous questions to ensure you fully understand their side. If you aren’t prepared to offer a solution on the spot, it’s okay to circle back after you’ve had time to think/research.

Serve up a compliment sandwich. The employee has some redeeming qualities, or you wouldn’t have hired them or be investing the time to coach toward improvement. Make sure you layer comments about their potential or their positive performance into the conversation to soften the sometimes sharp edges. This helps keep the employee focused and positive and shows them that you also see and appreciate what they do well.

Practice! Your delivery is key to successful coaching. Learning how to manage your face, body, gestures and vocal inflections is a skill. Skills take practice.

Giving an employee a warning or holding a coaching session is a serious and vital part of a manager’s job. The employee can come out of the meeting feeling focused and ready to tackle the challenge, or can be beat down and demotivated. The manager’s delivery largely determines which it will be. It’s not always easy to effectively engage employees, but a good manager recognizes the importance his or her communication plays in the success of the larger organization.