The need for a better approach to communication
As I am developing material for training on communication skills for managers, I reflect on how often I hear complaints about communication problems in the workplace. And I certainly recall my own challenges as a manager. It seems that no matter how much I thought I communicated, it didn’t seem to be enough for some. Others complained about information overload. Developing communication So it’s not so much about the amount, but rather having effective communication in the workplace.
Challenges with workplace communication
Communication is so basic to being human, and it’s an essential people management skill – but why is it often so difficult? Well to start with, we are all unique and have been raised with different ways of communicating. This is challenging enough under “normal” circumstances. But when things get difficult or complex, or emotions are running high, things can break down quickly and painfully. As organizations grow and change, complexity increases. Some times we face difficult times, such as downsizing or restructuring. Even in good times, rapid growth can overload our systems and our people.
We believe we have given a clear message, and are then surprised down the road when it is either ignored or misinterpreted. We assume it must be the other person’s fault. And taking it even further, we start to develop stories….
- They don’t care…
- He’s just trying to make things difficult for me!
- She’s challenging my authority by not following directions.
I have written in the past about some techniques for effective communication in the workplace. (see my post A Simple Plan to Improve Workplace Communication.) . But perhaps first we need to understand the barriers to communication, such that we can remove those obstacles to our success. Here are my top 3 barriers to effective communication in the workplace.
Focusing on one-way (my way!)
Communication involves both a sender and a receiver. As the sender, we may focus on what we want from others. We may even spend significant time developing our message to be very thorough and convincing – either written or verbal. We send out a message and expect results. But how do we know that it has been properly received and understood? With one way communication, there really is no way of knowing. We need to incorporate some way of getting feedback from the receiver to confirm that they both received and understood the message as we intended it. Ideally, there should be opportunity for questions and clarification. If you open the opportunity for feedback, you may learn something new and valuable.
Not considering the environment
In a perfect world, you and the people that you want to communicate with are sitting around the table in a quiet room. However, most workplaces have physical challenges that can impact communication. Do you have a noisy machines? Are there visual distractions? Does your audience need to keep their attention on tasks while simultaneously listening to you talk? In this environment, much of the message can be lost. And if you are in a large and dispersed organization, it can be difficult to reach everyone. So you really need to use different tools and communication channels to get your message across effectively. And chances are, you may need to use different approaches with different groups.
A history of “closed” culture
To encourage meaningful two way communication, we need to ensure that the organization encourages open and honest dialogue between all levels. Employees need to feel that their input is valued. If there has been a history of people being labelled as “trouble makers” for bringing up difficult issues, chances are that employees will keep concerns to themselves, perhaps festering and affecting morale. As an example, you give a presentation and ask for input. Nobody puts their hand up. Everyone gazes at the floor…… Do you assume they all agree with you??? Or are they afraid to speak up.
How can we have more effective communication in the workplace?
Developing communication skills for managers is the foundation for establishing effective communication in the workplace. Middle managers in particular need to be able to communicate to different levels in the organization, and often with a wide range of stakeholders.
Now that you understand some of the major pitfalls and barriers to communication, you will be better positioned to:
1) recognize if and when these are occurring in your workplace
2) remove barriers to communication and put new, more effective communication processes in place
3) measure and monitor your progress
In addition, consider developing a communication strategy for your organization and/or business unit. This is a proactive approach that recognizes these needs of different stakeholders, how often you need to communicate, the best medium, etc……
Improve performance in your organization
Give your managers and supervisors the tools and training they need to engage with employees, set clear direction and provide meaningful feedback. Check out our course in Performance Management for Supervisors and Managers. And contact us to discuss how we can help improve performance in your organization.