There are two types of workplaces: Those where you can hear a pin drop when you walk the halls, and the only sound is the sound of typing, people sending messages back and forth between their next-door cubicles. In contrast, there are those offices that are loud and active. You will see people standing on their chairs and shouting over cubicle walls.
Which workplace do you think is more productive?
Which workplace is happier?
Easy—it’s the one that is rich in communication and encourages the open exchange of information. True, while email has made our communication more productive, it has also made it worse in many ways. After all, when you have a possibility to contact someone eye to eye, it is fairly clear to see how your message is received.
Why Communication Matters
Think of all of the ways you communicate at work on a daily basis: Email, conference calls, casual conversations with coworkers, meetings with those you manage or fellow team members. In the simplest of terms, communication is the exchange of messages between people. But many don’t realize that good communication is a sort of superpower that can lead to motivation, resolving conflict, solid delegation, and smooth facilitation and collaboration among people.
In fact, I’d argue that being an effective communicator is the most critical skill for managers and employees alike.
Don’t believe me? Think of what happens when there is abrasive, insensitive, and poor communication. Relationships can break down. The organization becomes full of distrust.
Partial communication can be just as damaging as no communication: I’ve seen this happen during times of change when employees get new information without knowing all the reasons why. 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.
How to Do It Right
So how do you communicate with integrity, openness, and on regular basis?
- DON’T encode your messages. Here’s an example of encoding: Terry calls her boss 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.” 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 to 60 percent of the meaning in a message from sender to receiver!
- DO provide feedback, not an evaluation. Many managers are reluctant to provide feedback. Perhaps it’s because they are afraid how their feedback might be received? Or maybe because they don’t understand the difference between feedback and an evaluation. In giving feedback, be descriptive and 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” and how to improve it rather than to say, “I don’t like your project.”
- DO listen before you speak. Great listeners listen openly and with empathy. They judge content but not a person. They fight off distractions. They ask good questions to gather data, and respond with interest when communicating.
We all want to work in happy offices. Take the time to learn and practice the art of communication. This takes discipline, patience, and a sincere interest in keeping positive communication and dialog flowing between people. And, as we have learned communication, is more than just sending the message!
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