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The Craft Of Communication

Originally published
Originally published: 2/1/2008

Keep in mind your company doesn’t employ mind readers.

I once had a boss bite my head off in front of all of my co-workers. The “crime” I committed turned out to be her mistake and she later sulked into my office to offer a private apology to a very public flogging. Rather than opening the lines of communication and asking questions and listening to the answers, she assumed she knew all the facts. Her knee-jerk reaction created tension (always reprimand co-workers in private) and lessened my faith in her leadership abilities.

In her defense, trouble rolls downhill and she was merely responding to a knee-jerk reaction from her boss. Had he communicated effectively his dissatisfaction with the project, and detailed what caused his blood pressure to rise, only one of us would of had to lick our wounds. Instead, he waved a piece of paper in her face and stormed out of her office.

Unfortunately, this chain of events happens more often than it should because people assume they work with mind readers.

As leaders, it is your job to shun that notion and practice effective communication.

The best way to practice effective communication is to learn from others’ mistakes. Fortunately for you, I have witnessed (and at times committed) my share of communication fiascos.

Among the biggest blunders is the practice of no communication, especially when a company-changing event is underway. Sometimes the powers that be feel that such information is on a need-to-know basis for only a select few. While employees certainly don’t need to know every detail of mergers, acquisitions, financial results and downsizing prior to said events, some communication is necessary to at the very least stop the rumor mill.

Imaginations run wild when the grapevine drips tidbits of information. Employees will piece together cryptic knowledge to form their own picture of what is going on. Left without official notice for too long, and you will be managing more than you had bargained for.

The best way to handle sea change is to communicate often. Let employees know that you respect their position in the company enough to explain to them what is going on. If you don’t want to commit your communiqué to paper, call a meeting. In fact, meetings are often more effective — they lend themselves well to an open discussion that can put to rest any nasty rumors that may have surfaced. Meetings also are a way for you to really listen to your employees. Why is listening critical? Listening forms the basis of trust that builds the foundation for effective communications.

Another mistake that managers make is not enough one-on-one communication. Many times the only structured message an employee receives regarding performance happens when it’s too late to matter. Good leaders set the course for employees to follow. Great leaders make sure employees understand where they and the company are headed, have all the tools needed to reach their destination, and aren’t averse to changing the course if needed. The only way great leaders can assess the situation is by talking to employees. And the only way employees will understand and execute goals is if communication is open and often.

To be sure, a recent survey conducted by BNET, an online resource that helps business managers navigate the corporate landscape and a property of CNET Networks Inc., found that nearly half of all employees surveyed gave the top boss a C, D or F for communication.

According to the study, if given a chance, employees would like to discuss with their bosses the competitive environment in the industry, long-term vision, the company’s strategy and industry trends.

The study summarized the action plan that business owners and CEOs must take in order to be better communicators: “If you are the owner or CEO, you need to step out of the corner office and get more face time with the people who work for you.”

Indeed, engaging employees in conversation may help you better run your business. After all, these are the folks that are closest to your market. They are the ones who interact with customers and witness trends firsthand. Dismissing their contributions and keeping them out of the loop is poor business practice.

I’ve worked for many bosses and I’ve observed their varied communication styles. Obviously, the ones who took the time to publicize their thoughts and listen to employees garnered the best results for the bottom line. Those that sat in their ivory towers hoping their message would eventually make it to the masses failed miserably at reaching their goals. And it doesn’t take a mind reader to know when things are going south.

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