The Importance of Communication
As a manager and leader, it is incredibly important that you master the art of communication. What sets us apart as humans is our ability to communicate and express complex concepts and thoughts through those communications.
Unfortunately, the more complex the machine the more parts there are that can break down, but we’ll kick that dog when we get to it.
Poor communication can render a good strategy useless. No matter what industry you might work in, if your organization has poor communication between management and the front line, everyone WILL suffer.
On the flip side, great communication will allow your organization to grow, and tackle problems before they become emergencies.
What does poor communication look like? For this I’m going to use an example from history so you can see exactly what I mean when I say, “poor communication”
During the battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War was the largest battle fought on the western hemisphere. This turned out to be the battle that would turn the tide in the direction of the war. There were several mistakes that lead to the Confederate failure during this battle.
The mistake we are going to focus on is General Lee’s failure to give clear direction to one of his subordinate officers. Lee “ordered” Confederate General Yule to, “Attack when you think it’s practical.”
The position that Yule was meant to attack was an area of land called, Cemetery Ridge. This position provided the Union soldiers there and incredible defensive advantage. However, time was of the essence as far as the ordered attack was concerned. The Union soldiers defending the ridge had no way of reinforcing their defenses, and had the attack been carried out they would have been over run by the Confederate attackers.
Had General Lee communicated effectively, we may all be saying, “Y’all” and drinking sweet tea.
What does good communication look like?
Good communication is a mixture of clear direction, clear goals, and the ability to express yourself in a way that those around you understand what you’re saying.
When it comes to giving instructions to your crew it is incredibly important that you keep it SIMPLE. Say EXACTLY what you need so there is no room for misunderstanding. For example if you work in housekeeping at a hospital and you need a toilet cleaned in room 312, say exactly that and nothing else.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had supervisors give me unclear instructions and then get irritated when I misunderstood. I remember one time I had a supervisor tell me, “There’s a toilet that needs cleaning down at the end of B-wing.” and then he walked away before I could ask questions.
So, I walked down to the end of B-wing, checking toilets. I found one that had a mess all over the side of it and assumed that is what he was referring to. Turns out, it was not. About an hour later he came to me chewing me out for ignoring him. Don’t be that guy.
If you need the toilet in room 312 cleaned say that.
Here are some strategies to improve communication
1) Focus more on the other persons needs.
Often times we find ourselves focused on trying to get our point across more than we are on understanding the other persons needs and perspective. If you remove this conflict of trying to, “out-discuss” each other, then thoughts and ideas and even needs can be shared more freely.
Make a conscious effort to make sure that you take care of whatever the other person needs regardless of your needs. It may take some time but if you stay humble and show your team that you are there for them no matter what they will be inspired, with the help of biology, to make sure that your needs are met as well.
2) Hear for the purpose of listening, not for the purpose of responding.
I am majorly guilty of trying to prove that my idea or position is right. There is a time and place for that kind of discussion, just not in the middle of a work emergency or even during your day to day routine.
I often refer to the way a lot of men listen to their wives and girlfriends as listening like a police scanner. We often listen for key words and ideas that we deem important enough to deserve our attention. Any man or woman in a relationship can tell you that this habit is majorly irritating.
Instead of listening for key words or phrases to respond to, set aside all distractions and give the other person or people your total attention. If you’re busy put down what you’re doing and LISTEN.
3) Over-communicate as much as possible.
There is a major difference between over communication for the purpose of CYA, and staying on the same page.
As a manager or leader it is your responsibility to keep the people in your charge informed and up to date. In my experience the two biggest ways to alienate your staff is to either A) Throw them under the bus, or B) Keep them outside of the loop of information.
If you know the district or regional manager is coming a week in advance and tell your people the day of, they will feel outside of the loop. Even giving them the smallest bits of information consistently will, over time, develop a strong report and open up those lines of communication.
4) It is entirely acceptable to share your life with the people you work with.
Now I’m not talking the dirty inappropriate details. I’m talking about the ups, the downs, the mundane things and the major things. If your spouse has cancer, share that with your team. Not in a way that screams give me all your sympathy but in a way that says, I’m vulnerable and I need support.
Our modern attitudes towards HR and separating our home life from our work life has led to an environment where no one is connected anymore. You may be one of those people that enjoys their privacy and wants to clock in, do your job, and clock out. There is nothing wrong with that.
What I am talking about is the fact that our modern HR departments teach us that we need to keep a comfortable distance from the people that we spend most of our days with. Then we as a society wonder why we all feel so disconnected and unfulfilled all the time.
This attitude will stifle the ability of a team to communicate effectively. Everyone will be too afraid to say anything that might create and incident and wake the sleeping HR beast. Break down those barriers and you will find that communication will flow freely and comfortably.
Communication is difficult. You have to juggle language barriers, cultural differences, differences in sensitivity levels, difference in understanding, personality differences etc. If you work on improving your communication skills, and creating an environment where the people around you can speak candidly, you will find your work will flow better and everyone will get along incredibly well.