What happens when effective communication is absent? Organisations shut down, say Ethan F. Becker and Jon Wortmann in ‘Mastering Communication at Work: How to lead, manage, and influence’ (www.tatamcgrawhill.com). Effective communication, you can know to be missing, when the environment is highly political, when people talk about one another instead of to one another, and work just isn’t fun, the authors rue. Unhealthy communication environment can only attract top talent with money; employees aren’t engaged, and you risk the future success of the organisation, they add.
“Creating a culture of communication means creating an environment that sees stellar communication as essential, considers the development of it to be part of the norms of daily work, and rewards people for it.”
When developing a culture of communication, your best training investment is in the people who want to learn, the authors aver. Pour all your energy and resources into this group and the people around them, because “once they become better communicators, once they are modelling the techniques and formats, they will accelerate the adoption of the behaviours you want to see throughout your organisation.”
But then, you will still have the grumpy bears who think that paying attention to communication is not using time wisely, the authors remind. “Watch them closely, because they can be a powerful measurement of whether your culture is changing. When they start speaking differently, running meetings like your early adopters or people who make communication a priority, and putting on presentations with colours that you’ve never seen before, the virus is working.”
An interesting section in the book is about getting good at listening, by adopting four simple guidelines. First, get ready like an athlete, the authors advise. “Mentally and physically, you have to choose to be in the moment and engage. If e-mail distracts you, turn off the computer. If you’re worrying about other issues, write them down so you can tackle them later.”
The second bit of counsel is to control bias, because your filters and judgments can get in the way. If you know that you don’t like someone or don’t trust him, admit this ahead of time so that you don’t shut down during the conversation, recommend Becker and Wortmann. “Shutting down translates into not caring, and not caring makes it impossible to accurately understand what the other person is saying.”
Third, separate fact and feeling. Determining whether someone is speaking about facts or about feelings is a listening skill, and what you say next is very different in the two cases, explain the authors. “You can talk about facts with interest and curiosity, but if someone is expressing emotion, the only validation that matters at first is something like, ‘That’s tough,’ with a compassionate tone.”
And, the fourth guideline is to pick up ‘cue’ words, which indicate the direction in which the conversation is going. For instance, when someone says, ‘The bottom line here,’ you come back from your daydreams, because of the cue that the core of the message is to be given.
“Other examples like ‘What we need to do here’ or ‘What I’m trying to say is’ also indicate that the person is about to deliver the punch line. ‘In conclusion’ or ‘To sum it all up’ means that the person is going to deliver the message you need to remember.”