It’s impossible for anyone to get through life without communicating. Even as infants, before we can talk, we are still able to communicate our needs. Friendships, relationships and marriages all start with communication, and their survival depends on it. Yet when it comes to the workplace some of us are obviously stumped. Research points to nearly half of employees not having a clue as to what their employer’s overall mission or vision is. Being able to recite company mantras like a trained parrot means nothing. But employees not knowing what their employer is trying to achieve and their part in it? Surely that’s tantamount to stumbling around a cave in the dark without a hope of finding a way out.
This is a symptom with just one underlying condition. Poor communication. Here are just some of the mistakes that both companies and individuals make:
Silence is golden
Or in this case, silence is deadly. There can be a myriad of reasons why no official communication is disseminated to employees, both intentional and unintentional. Either way this sends a message to employees that they are not trusted.
If people are told nothing they will make up their own minds, and it’s unlikely that this will be complimentary of the company, or it’s leaders.
Knowledge is power
We’ve all felt the thrill of being privy to a secret. In our personal lives it’s part of how we build relationships with others. Knowing something others don’t gives us an advantage, either real or perceived. It makes us feel special.
But in the workplace such favouritism quickly becomes a source of resentment. Jealous employees act on their own interests and not those of the company.
Old news is no news
Inevitably the feeling of power an employee gets from being singled out to receive information doesn’t last for long unless they tell someone about it. And that, as they say, is how rumours start.
Gossip is certainly fast, but it leads to a diluted and often mis-interpreted message being distributed haphazardly. And by the time the official message is delivered it’s old news to employees because they’re already subscribed to the rumour that came first.
Good intentions can lead companies to go overboard. Communication is not something that policies and procedures will solve. Hierarchical, prescribed networks for distributing information are slow and counter-productive.
Having the wrong strategy is equivalent to having no strategy at all. Make it too onerous and employees will resort back to the unofficial channels for their information.
Incorrect use of technology
Technology has made modern communication quick and easy. We can connect with strangers on the other side of the World instantly, and the possibilities are endless. But these benefits can also be the downfall where employee communications are concerned.
The key mistake here is using email as an easy option when face to face communication is more appropriate. Other sins include clicking send before messages are thought through, barraging employees with information and turning off those employees who are not comfortably with using technology as their main source of information.
Leaders out the loop
If the company’s middle managers are not on board, communication risks being misinterpreted by everyone. Leaders know their team and can translate a message to appeal to individual motivators. More importantly they can check that the message has been understood in the manner intended. Without leaders in the loop two-way communication stalls, preventing essential feedback and innovation from reaching the top.
And in the end
Some mistakes are probably missed from this list but I think the point is made. There’s a common theme running through the consequences of communication failures. Without communication, employees work as individuals, not together. Without communication, companies consist of silos that are unable to harness the power of collective skills.
Communication mistakes are easy to make, but thankfully they’re also easy to remedy. Simple solutions such as improving individual communication skills, facilitating individual connections and leading with openness can make a big difference to businesses. Communication is contagious. Just try it and see.
(For a great article published recently by Dr Marla Gottschalk about going back to basics and improving individual communication skills, see here)
What do you find important to great communication? How have you improved communication as an individual or a company?