How many times have you heard “just because you can talk does not mean you can communicate?” Early in my career I worked for a manager that loved this expression. As a junior level employee, I would find that I typically did not quickly and succinctly summarize the information I wanted to convey. I more favored giving too many details, providing interwoven comments, and explaining things that needed less explanation. Since most of us learn to communicate verbally at a young age, we assume that if we can talk, people will listen and understand the perfect vision of what is inside of our head. Over time, I realized that it is better to customize the message to the person and ensure that verbal and non-verbal clues play a role in constantly adjusting my approaching during the communication process.
Like personal communication, organizational communication many times defaults to some simple, yet unrealistic assumptions. A few of the common ones include:
Communication is uniform – Most of us want to believe that we communicate with everyone in the same way. However, communication tends to follow our pattern of influence. We communicate more with those close to as well as aligned with us. Since information is viewed as a resource that relates to power, it is common for the holder of the information to disperse it in a cautious manner.
Communication is meant to convey information – It is easy to assume that people communicate for the sake of supplying important information to those that need it. This assumption ignores the fact that miscommunication is a common tool utilized by employees and managers to diffuse accountability, mislead rivals, and enhance position.
We all act rationally – If we assume that people rationally analyze the information they receive, operate in an environment of perfect information, and act on it, we will be regularly disappointed. It is common to have partial information, interject our own perceptions or filters on the message, and act in what we view as our own best interest or in a pattern heavily influenced by past experiences.
One way communication is highly effective – The military or top-down model of communication is common place in most organizations. It is easy on the communicator and more efficient, preserves the authority and power of the communicator, and is faster than two-way communication. Nevertheless, research has shown that two-way communication is much more effective. When an employee has the ability to ask questions and participate in the communication process not only does understanding, but acceptance increases.
How can we offset these common assumptions?
- Think first
- More is better
If you have children, you have probably told them to think before they act more than once. When we communicate, thinking is just as important. it is important to know what we want to communicate, differences in the audience, and how best to deliver the key information. By thinking about it, we can avoid miscommunication and increase the chance we will receive the response we are hoping for from our audience.
More is Better
Although most of us want to communicate what we need to and get back to our own work, it is imperative that we set aside the time necessary to ensure that the message is delivered and received. People by nature desire to have details when something is part of their life. Given the complexity of the dynamic of the workplace, most of us want to know as much as we can about why, how, and who. Although we may be limited in what we can share as leaders, we have to find a balance. An important part of that balance is to communicate often with those we interact with and deliver the message repeatedly when the message is important.
Customization of communication becomes more critical as our audience becomes more diverse. Just as most of us learn differently, we collect and process information differently as well. Although there should be a common base in our message, we need to customize our message and its method of delivery. Research has consistently shown that how you speak to different levels (peer, direct report, and other members of the staff) as well as different personalities matter.
Communication seems easy since talking is something we do every day. However, effective communication takes more insight and effort than it seems.