Possibly the most contentious issue in running a business is that of communication, good or bad. It is significant that many employee satisfaction surveys rate communication as “could do better”.
This can be mystifying to many leaders who genuinely rate the subject as being of prime importance and make every effort to keep everyone informed.
One of the members of my Vistage CEO peer group says that leadership is just about people and communications and you can’t fault that as an ethos.
So why is it, when so many leaders honestly think that they are doing everything possible to communicate effectively, many of the recipients disagree?
More often than not it is in the methods we use. The real problem lies in the fact that people might hear but they don’t necessarily listen. The problem is is even more apparent with the written word that people don’t even read .
There are several critical factors that can improve the way that information is transmitted and, more importantly, received.
Whether we are communicating face to face, in print, digitally, by audio or video, the requirements are the same. We need to ensure that the methods we choose are the most effective and are justified by the results.
There are seven basic requirements then for effective communication:
Make sure that you are giving the right message to the right people. I recall an occasion where the leader decided that everyone should be given information about the company’s finances and he set up company-wide meetings to tell them.
It wasn’t very successful to say the least and he changed the scheme to small groups where discussion was encouraged and that proved a great improvement.
One of the problems of top-down communication is that we know all about the subject and consequently tend to forget that other people don’t necessarily know. The effect of this mismatch is either insufficient information being transmitted or, worse, too much and that can clog up the message.
Test the message by trying it out on someone who is not involved and ask for feedback on both the message and the style.
There is the tale of the Best Man at a wedding who started his speech by saying: “I have been told to keep it short and clean so I have been holding it under a cold tap for the last ten minutes!’
Rambling on merely gets in the way, is distracting and disguises the intended massage so keep it short (and clean).
Again make sure that you are giving the right message to the right people. It may seem obvious but like those who insist on sending a .cc to everyone in an email, we only irritate people if we include those who are peripheral in that instance.
Accuracy and Truth
It always surprises me that when some people explain a situation they don’t always come clean on the facts. Maybe this is a defence mechanism but it doesn’t help when the subterfuge is uncovered.
It is not only a lack of accuracy, it can be a matter of untruthfulness. You will be found out eventually and trust will fly out of the window.
Why are you communicating something? Is it merely to pass on information or are you asking someone to respond or take action?
Whatever it is you should state your expectations clearly, succinctly and, if needs be, assertively. There is nothing worse than going out of a meeting with everyone saying “What was all that about?”
Unless you have unfettered feedback you will never know whether your message has been received and understood. Getting that real feedback is not a matter of saying “Do you understand (or similar)?” because all you are likely to get are nods of agreement that mean nothing.
Feedback is the crux of great communication so ensure that you ask the questions that will uncover what has been heard. Ask questions that paraphrase the message and then what action is proposed as a consequence.
There are hundreds of books published on the whole subject of communication so why
do we find it so difficult? These tips should help at least to improve your performance.
A very important point. Communication is not top down or bottom up. It is a two-way process.
Visit the Vistage UK website