Communication between Peers

One of our readers recently commented that he would like to see more discussion of the intricacies of communication between coworkers.  He made a very valid point that supervisor communication is different than peer communication and most organizations spend a significant amount of time on improving supervisor communication, but little at peer communication.  What are the common peer communication concerns that inhibit the success of an organization?  There are several common challenges that I have encountering the past in most organizations:

  • management team members do not talk
  • my peers do not respond to me
  • we do not really understand each other

Management Team Members Do Not Talk

Most leaders credit their success to internal resolve, determination, skill, and ability.  Similarly, most view the workplace environment as an arena where many compete and only a few win.  In this type of environment, a strong and competitive spirit is necessary in order to succeed.  Generally, this competitive spirit creates an environment where knowledge is power.  If I know something a peer does not know, it gives me a slight advantage over that person.  Moreover, if I help someone or another group and it makes them look good, it somehow diminishes my or my team’s relative value in comparison to that person or group.  These assumption leads to poor peer communication.  As a result, I communicate less with my peers out of a desire to horde knowledge, prevent others from talking about my shortcomings, or perform at a higher level due.    An organization with these characteristics will never reach its full potential.

My Peers Do Not Respond to Me

Another common phenomenon is that as employees and leaders alike we place more emphasis on external customers than internal peers.  This leads to creating daily priorities for time and responses that place internal peers as the least important.  In other words, if I do not have time to get back to someone in my own organization today, it is fine since I addressed the needs of my customers first.  The last several decades have transformed most organizations to be more customer-centric or focused on pleasing the customer by providing a high quality product or service in a timely and hassle-free fashion.   Only recently, major organizations have started to recognize that strong internal relationships are a correlate with successful customer service.  If a team works together internally, then it is more likely they will provide a satisfying product or service to its customers.   In order to be successful and work well with peers, we need to balance their needs with our other demands.

We Do Not Understand Each Other

The nature of peer communication can lead to more misunderstandings since the filtering is more complex.  With any type of workplace communication, trust, openness, and persuasion are critical for acceptance and action.  However, with peers, it is more critical since there is the absence of the accepted reporting relationship and more workplace dynamics at play. Filters are more prevalent among higher level employees since there is normally more open information on performance, compensation, and perceived opportunities.  These filters make us only receive part of the message.  I worked with a leader a few years ago that never read an email in its entirety.  He would receive it, read to a certain point, assume the substance of the rest, and apply his personal filters based on who the sender was.  Numerous times, he assumed that the email was an attack and would shoot back a nasty response to the person to only read the messaging in its entirety later and realize that the person was not posing a threat at all.  It is critical when dealing with peers that we take a little extra time and ensure we understood the message before acting.

A few things to keep in mind that relate to organizational performance and peer communication:

  • Communication is critical to teamwork and an organization will not reach its full potential without strong peer communication;
  • Relationships matter, especially for mutual respect, cooperation/collaboration, and peer learning; and
  • Controlling information should not be rewarded.