If you make a list of your pet peeves about work, I bet high on the list are, being kept in the dark, being patronised, and being misinformed.
Contrary to this type of workplace environment, healthy and successful organisations communicate as transparently as they can and keep secrets only as long as is absolutely necessary.
“Great delivery also depends upon great communication, which should start at the top.” ~ Sir Richard Branson
Talk to many leaders about communication and they think about, “how can I get my message out to the staff?” This is a symptom of how they perceive their relationship with their followers. They are in charge, they’re paid the big bucks to create the vision and strategy and they make all the important decisions.
Consequently they see communication as top-down delivery of their important information which should be understood and acted on in proscribed ways. This “information” is generally perceived by the recipient as poorly cloaked instruction and coercion intended to drive the company’s agenda.
In doing this leaders miss the purpose and full power of authentically open integrated communication entirely.
A Two-Way Street
Communication is at its simplest a two-way interaction but more often than not (and often unintentionally) is multi-directional.
On the one hand, your response to a message from your boss might be restricted to your own thoughts. On the other, you discuss the matter with a colleague who in turn talks to another and so on, with the inevitable distortion created by the rumour mill.
As is the case with the physical conservation of energy, human communications can never be destroyed, they are simply converted into other forms of communication often with unforeseen, unwanted and uncontrollable consequences.
Victor S. Sohmen (Drexel University) clearly explains the fundamental role of transparent communication in his paper “Leadership and Teamwork: Two Sides of the Same Coin” in the Journal of IT and Economic Development.
Ask yourself this:
- If all communications are multidimensional, are never truly secret and you can never learn less from them, why not take full advantage of its power for good?
- Why not give out your e-mail address to everyone and invite them to use it?
Create equally powerful multiple well-integrated lines of communication bottom to top as well as top to bottom in your organisation. The rest is about building flexible yet robust systems to manage information flow and integration.
Open Authentic Communication
In an excellent article “Relationship between Organizational Culture, Leadership Behavior and Job Satisfaction”, Yafang Tsai clearly describes the fundamental foundation of open authentic communication to building high performing organisational cultures.
Imagine a scenario where the brother of someone who cleans the toilets knows someone who is the father of a genius kid who has recently invented a new widget which could revolutionise your business. If you always excluded that cleaner from contributing their ideas they’ll cease to bother and you will lose out. If that sort of communication disconnect is a cultural norm in your organisation, then you are in trouble.
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” ~ Peter Drucker
I am convinced most leaders are well-meaning and attempt to improve communication, but their efforts are generally self-centered and inevitably come across as patronising and back fire disappointingly. A good rule of thumb is to “ask” twice as many times as you “tell”.
As Vincent van Gogh said, “It is the little emotions that are the great captains of our lives.”
If we know that day-to-day we’re really heard, truthfully informed and treated as adults we feel valued, are more internally motivated and are much more likely to identify with our place of work and go that extra mile for the team.
Too many organisations feel that incentives will drive staff to behave like the 300 Spartans who laid down their lives at the battle of Thermopylae in an attempt to drive back invading Persians; THEY WON’T! But if they feel they can influence the future of their organisations THEY JUST MIGHT!
Ask yourself these questions today:
- Do you feel communicating with staff is a chore or a key element of business?
- Did you communicate to your staff today? If your answer is “no”, why didn’t you?
- What information did you send out today, to what extent might it be viewed by the recipient as patronising, opaque or misleading?
- What open questions did you ask your staff?
- Who has your e-mail and phone number; why them?
Make a brief cost/benefit analysis if you opened up your lines of communication.
A really good place to find your voice is “Leading Out Loud: A Guide for Engaging Others in Creating the Future by Terry Pearce.
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Image Sources: people-communicating.com