As with the common cold, the pervasive nature of poor communication is both at once astounding and predictable. From the corporate giants to the small mom & pop shops, there is no immunity to poor communication and the affects it can have on morale, motivation, and productivity in the workplace.
Why is it then that the big companies with all their formal processes or small business with their somewhat more relaxed atmosphere; why is it that no one can escape the pandemic nature of this human affliction?
Communication, or the lack of it, is the means through which all relationships are created, maintained, and destroyed. So it only makes sense, that when information doesn’t properly flow down the chain of command; it doesn’t flow up very well either. Think about it, communication is the life blood of every relationship; personal, professional, or otherwise and as much as we do it, most of us are not that good at it.
Try making a diagnosis yourself. Whether you are a business owner, manager, supervisor, or employee, here are some of the symptoms to look for. Do you recognize any of them?
- Conflicting goals/turf wars, unclear values or priorities
- Confusion over what is supposed to be done or who it’s being done for.
- Few or no ideas contributed during meetings,
- Lack of input, questions, or feedback – everyone just agrees with you.
- Reworking of assignments, mediocre work quality, people doing just enough to get by.
- Unhappy people, absenteeism, gossip, rumors
Imagine the disruption, productivity loss, and eventual demise these crippling effects that result from poor communication could wreak on the success of any business big or small. So whether you’re in need of a cure or you just want to take preventative measures, there are a number of practices that can be put in place to promote healthy, thriving, and sustainable communication. If you are willing to work at it, good communication will work wonders for any ailing work group.
Prescriptions may vary, but here are a few good antidotes that when used generously can be just the remedy you need:
Contact, find the time and make it personal.
Today’s managers and small business owners are as busy as ever dealing with heavy workloads and the stresses of a difficult economy. Understandably it can be difficult to maintain an “open door” policy, but if a supervisor is always behind a closed door or rarely in the office, their staff members are often at a loss when it comes to communicating with them. It can be so easy to forget that an important part of leadership is actually leading people, especially when you feel like you have no time for yourself. Never the less, it is absolutely critical to carve time out of your schedule for regular one-on-one and group employee meetings.
During one-on-one meetings always offer your undivided attention. Taking telephone calls, working on unrelated tasks or allowing others to interrupt will convey the message that you do not consider that person’s input or concerns important. Regularly scheduled staff meetings that encourage input on various issues from all staff members can be a great way to improve workplace communication. Use these meetings to send the message that opinions are valued and see how it makes people more likely to share both their concerns and ideas. Communicating through direct contact will help you build rapport and trust, but you need to find the time and make it personal.
Always be courteous, clear and consistent.
Being courteous and polite demonstrates good will and respect. In fact there is no better way to create an atmosphere of congeniality and teamwork than by using the simple little words: “Please” and “Thank you”. Being courteous however is a lot more than just words. Its attitude, its actions and these too go a long way in conveying messages, sometimes even more so than the things we say. What do you tell others with your attitude and actions? Do you talk over people when they’re speaking, hoard office resources / supplies, or disregard office protocols? Or are you the kind of person who keeps their voice lowered so not to bother your neighbor, picks up after themselves and fills the paper tray in the printer after you’ve depleted it? Keep in mind that time tested rule of reciprocity: Do on to other, as you would have them do on to you.
Being clear with our communication can be challenging in some ways, but its importance should never be denied. Whether you’re talking to someone or putting it in writing, your message needs to be easily understood and transparent. No ambiguity, dubious statements, hidden agendas flowery phrases or dense text please. The ineffectiveness of such practices runs the risks of misinterpretation, confusion and loss of valuable time trying to decode the real meaning. Think about what you want your listeners to remember or do and be articulate. Always test for mutual understanding by asking for feedback.
Speaking and acting consistently is one of the greatest ways to foster trust. And never has there been a winning team that did not succeed without it. Be consistent with context, audiences, and delivery times. Nothing confuses people faster that inconsistency. Inconsistency promotes contradiction, contradiction promotes conflict, conflict promotes … well, do you see where this is going?
Listen, establish clarity, and give meaningful feedback
Communicating effectively is as much about listening to what is being said as it is about talking. We general listen at one of four different levels: ignoring, pretending, selective listening or attentive listening. Listening effectively means you are making a conscious effort to be receptive to both verbal and non-verbal messages with the intent to understand the whole message. Show you’re listening attentively by posturing yourself openly and move with the speaker, encourage the speaker to share more with brief indicators such as: “I see.”, “uh huh” or “Really”. Ask questions, reflect, and paraphrase respectfully to ensure your understanding.
Once we have really heard what’s being said and it’s time to respond, be aware of your own attitudes. The six most common ways in which people respond are: evaluating or judging, advising, interpreting, supporting, questioning and understanding. Providing meaningful feedback may require adjusting your attitude to promote productive dialogue. Too often feedback is fraught with woeful apprehension but following a few good practices can make the experience a positive one and help to develop strong relationships. So whether someone caught you in the hall or your conducting a performance review here are some good tips to make your feedback meaningful.
- Set a positive tone by asking permission to give feedback
- Value the other person’s willingness to participate
- Be focused and specific
- Don’t let it become a monologue
- Energize, rejuvenate, encourage
Good communication in the workplace is growing even more complex because we don’t just do business, we do business with people. Factor in the diversity of today’s workforce with such differences as age, ethnicity and race, physical abilities, gender and sexual orientation, flatter organizations as a result of cost cutting measures and a global economy, and we can see how communication becomes the critical link in the success of any business. Robert Kent, a former dean of Harvard Business School tells us that, “In business, communication is everything.” Research consistently tells us that good communication skills are for crucial managers. So take your business’s temperature. Are there opportunities to improve communication, build trust, boost morale, motivate others, and increase productivity? Of course there are, it just takes some work to stay healthy.