Communication is the act of transferring information and ideas from person to person. It comes in many forms. Face-to-face conversations. E-mails. Phone. Voice-mail. Non-verbal communication (i.e. rolling of eyes). Pictures painted on the walls of caves. Even chalk marks on park benches can be a form of communication between covert agents. There are many, many forms of communication. Each one has benefits and drawbacks.
Communication tends to rank highly as a factor that contributes to job satisfaction. Why is communication so important? Because people like to know what’s going on, and they like to have a say in their future. They do not like being blindsided by events that they should have, or could have known about in advance.
In some cases, they understand the need for secrecy, if it is warranted. But they don’t appreciate being in the dark if it is not. A good example is when a group is going to be part of a kaizen. If a leader talks to the team about the need for a change well before a project starts, the team can have some input into what is going to happen. They tend to handle the challenges of the kaizen much better when they feel like they are a part of it. If they think they are suddenly surprised by outsiders coming in and changing their workspace, they feel resentful.
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Numerous classes and training programs exist on how to communicate more effectively, how to read body language, how to use your own body language to enhance your message, and how to write more effectively. The list goes on and one. The point? Communication is so important that people spend small fortunes learning how to do it better.
Communication can be one-way, such as when a CEO sends out a memorandum. To a degree, email and voicemail is one-way, especially when there is no opportunity for an immediate response. One-way communication, especially in written form, can be carefully scripted. But it has the drawback that if it is misinterpreted, there is no opportunity to clarify. Have you ever received a voicemail where someone wrote something in a way that lit your fuse? Without a chance to ask questions to follow up, that fuse keeps burning.
Two-way communication can be more effective—ideas can be explained and agreements can be reached. Unfortunately, it takes more time, and is not very efficient when the communication is one-to-many. There are also many more subtle clues that can be misinterpreted, and personal biases can creep in. Some people do carry prejudice about races, religion, gender and the like that can hamstring an organization, but other factors play a role. Behavioral cues affect communication, as do some mundane indicators. Have you ever tried to take someone seriously when they had spinach stuck in their teeth, or were dressed inappropriately for a particular meeting? Communication takes many forms.
Most supervisors are not very good at communication. They either over communicate, causing important points to get lost in the flood of information, or they under communicate, holding back significant details.
The happy medium comes when you participate in the communication process rather than act simply as a recipient of information. Paying attention during meetings lets your boss know you are listening. It will also enable you to ask important questions if you need clarity.
An obstacle to good communication forms when a leader tells something to a group and thinks it is understood. They see nodding heads and think their points are landing. They form an expectation based on that communication. If you didn’t really understand, you will still be held to that expectation. Never leave a meeting where you aren’t clear on the key points of the conversation. The larger the group, the more likely that someone has no idea of what he or she is supposed to take away from the meeting. Before you leave, ask yourself what you got from the meeting. If you can’t sort it out in your head, you’ve got an obligation to ask for clarification.
Make sure you include people in communication channels as early as possible. With clear expectations, teams understand what they need to do, and in some cases, what will happen next if the goals are not met. This means that teams must also know where they stand in relation to targets.
And this communication is not only the leader’s responsibility. If a team doesn’t know something, they have an obligation to ask. But what does fall squarely on the shoulders of a leader is the responsibility to create an environment in which teams are not afraid to ask questions or voice their concerns and opinions. Create a toxic environment, and teams clam up in a hurry.
Some leaders are challenged with saying no to their teams, so they limit the conversation. Soliciting an opinion is not a blank check. This can create a challenging situation, especially when that opinion seems to go into a black hole. If leaders do not use ideas, they should at least give an explanation about why not. If people don’t feel that their boss is at least considering what they are presenting, they will be reluctant to keep communication channels opened in the future.
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