Communicating: The Essence of Organizational Success
by: Craig Nathanson
Failure to communicate
Failure in communication is the biggest problem of management. When this occurs, it affects everything. Overall performance of people decreases, goals are not clear, people build incorrect assumptions, and relationships at work suffer. Especially during challenging times, it’s critical to be more effective when communicating. Employees want to know what is going on during times of change. This is when the breakdown usually occurs. Many managers fail to understand how important to communicate with integrity, openness, and on regular basis.
What is communication anyway?
Communication is the exchange of messages between people. And, to make the communication effective is the most critical skill for managers. Good communication leads to personal power, motivation, resolving conflict, solid delegation, and smooth facilitation and collaboration among people. Sadly, when there is abrasive, insensitive, and poor communication, it leads to a breakdown in relationships. The organization becomes full of distrust and uncaring interpersonal relationships. This occurs in organizations where employees get new information about changes without knowing all the reasons why.
The traditional model of business communication has flaws
The traditional mode of business communication has always focused on accuracy and efficiency. It is sort of like a conduit model containing of three parts: a transmitter, receiver, and noise. It has been my observation that most interpersonal problems at work occurs due to problems in communication. Communication after all is a complex process. For example, let’s take Terry and her boss Ron. Terry calls Ron and tells him, “I won’t be able to work again tomorrow. This pregnancy keeps me nauseous and my doctor said that I should probably be reduced to part-time.” Ron tells her, “Terry, this is the third time you have missed work and your appointments keep backing up all of us. We have to cover for you and this is messing up all of us.”
This was an example of poor communication from both sides. In a good communication must be a clear message encoded for a delivery.
Terri wanted to have more empathy from her boss Ron. But she encoded this message to make it more official to add an excuse for missing work. Ron is not really happy with Terry anyway and decoded this message as just another excuse from Terri. He was not clear either about his further plans about her.
You can see that the margin for error is quite high at each step of the communication process. Some social psychologists estimate that there is a usual loss of 40-60% of the meaning in a message from sender to receiver!
There are many barriers for effective communication at work. The way we use the language because of our cultural and educational differences can lead to misunderstanding. Our perception of one another depends on many factors, what generation you belong, what gender, where you grew up, what your beliefs are, and so on. Often, we don’t know how to read body language, how to listen, how to react in a conflict situation in a professional way. Overall, lack of knowledge affects our communication at work.
It can be helpful to understand non-verbal cues.
Some research suggests that we communicate non-verbally 70% of the time! It can be helpful to learn to read visual cues, how different people use their hands when speaking, and their tone of voice. Learn to make an eye contact depending on another person’s culture. In North America eye contact preferably should be soft. For middle Eastern, the “eyes are the windows of the soul”. In Japan there is very little eye contact made. In North America our physical space is a big deal. For example, 2-4 feet is reserved for close friends and family, 4-12 feet is the best space for social communications, and 12 feet when giving presentations.
The best manager is a great listener. The best m anager listens openly and with empathy. The best manager judges content but not a person. The good listener uses many methods to listen and fights off distractions when listening. The best manager knows the art of asking good questions to gather data. The best manager responds with interest when communicating.
How to give a feedback
Many managers are reluctant to provide feedback but quick to evaluate. Many managers are afraid how their feedback might be received. They may have personal biases which affect their feedback. In giving feedback, the best manager should be descriptive to make sure the receiver gets a description and not an evaluation. Strong managers focus on the behavior and not on the person. It is better to say, “I don’t like the way the project which you were on turned out.” rather than to say, “I don’t like your project”. Even worse to say, “I don’t like you!”
While we usually don’t tell others at work that we don’t like them it tends to come out in other ways.
High Richness vs. Low Richness communications
While email has made our communication more productive, it has also made it worse in many ways. How much time is wasted while a person on another end is either hiding behind an e-mail or did not even receive your email because it ended up in the spam folder. At least, when you have a possibility to contact someone eye to eye, it is fairly clear how your message is received. When in doubt, communicate in person. In buildings where offices and cubicles are next to each other, strong managers encourage people to get up and walk around to communicate. It has been my observation that the healthiest organizations are loud and active. You will see people standing on their chairs shouting over cubicle walls. The organizations in trouble are the ones when you can hear a pin drop when you walk in the halls. All that is heard is the sound of typing, people sending messages back and forth between their next door cubicles. Management problems are many times is a failure to communicate. And as we have learned communication is more than just sending the message!