Communicating Effectively at Work
The two basic communications systems are oral and written. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Most managers are normally exposed to a heavy dose of written communication from their bosses and peers; and as a consequence, they tend to view written communication as the way of communicating. Additionally, writing serves as a record of what has been said and done-a factor more liable to be a concern in a larger organization.
It is likely that modern business organizations rely too heavily upon written communication. Face-to-face communication involves talking with another person or persons; written media involve talking at another person. While warmth and enthusiasm can be achieved in written media, there can be no match in rapport and understanding for face-to-face discussion by two people.
The advantages of written media are that they can be disseminated at a number of locations at once, can handle more complex subjects, can reach large numbers of people faster, and build a record for later reference.
The following discussions of potential media are only outlines. No attempt is made to provide a how-to kit. Rather, the discussions are meant to provide an array of media possibilities, including their strengths and weaknesses. The practitioner hopefully can select those media most appropriate for his specific circumstances. Caution and simplicity are recommended. When building a communications effort from scratch or revising a current one to improve effectiveness, it is better to start small and expand later. One or two types of communication carried out reasonably well are more helpful than several types carried out poorly or in a half-hearted manner. The proper role of employee communications must be kept in mind-that is, to improve employee and organization effectiveness, not to entertain the audience, or improve morale, or enhance the self-esteem of management. Managers need to be trained to listen and react, not just order and talk.
ï¿½ Manager talks to mass audiences. Talks to large audiences have great impact on employees.
– Depending on circumstances, they can be difficult to arrange and expensive in terms of employee time.
– Speech giving is quite difficult for some managers. The quality of both delivery and content of such talks can vary greatly. A rule of thumb is that no more than three topics should be covered in one talk. It is possible to improve talks with rehearsals and constructive criticism solicited from peers or a pilot group.
– Manager talks should, on the one hand, be used sparingly, only for important topics, since they have high impact. On the other hand, they should be given occasionally, even if only for a state-of-the business review, in order that they be seen as a normal activity.
– Even when feasible, allowing questions from the floor is not normally advisable due to the difficulty of keeping them on the subject and of being properly prepared to answer them.
– Use of visuals is optional. They may enhance employee understanding and retention but they take time to prepare properly. Visuals are especially helpful for complex subjects.
– Suitable audience facilities (space, heat, ventilation, etc.) should be maintained.
ï¿½ Manager or supervisor talks to small groups –Small-group talks can be either talking to or talking with employees.
– Talks are generally more effective where there are question-answer or give-and-take discussions. While for most managers not as unnerving as mass meetings, small group talks are still difficult for some people.
– Talks can be greatly improved by preparation and rehearsal.
– Talks should have an objective-that is, they should explain a change, gather employee ideas on a subject, discuss a problem and alternative solutions, quiet a rumor, etc.
– Note taking is necessary when soliciting employee views or reactions.
– If a response to employee comments is deemed desirable, employees should be informed of a plan for any follow-up.
– Faking answers to audience questions is unacceptable. It is best to admit ignorance and promise to obtain answers.
-A group decision stemming from a talk is unacceptable unless such decision is the objective of the talk. There is nothing wrong with accepting, without a commitment, recommendations and ideas stemming from discussions following talks.
– An explanation of the reason for the talk, its format, and the planned length is needed at the start of the meeting. The speaker should quit early if his objective is achieved early rather than drag out the meeting. Visual aids can be helpful depending on the content of the talk. They should be large enough to be seen.
-Audience facilities are important. Crowding, noise, etc., are disrupting factors. Informality is best.
ï¿½ Small-group decision making
– Group decision making is a valuable way to get commitment of a group to a plan of action.
– The subject can run the gamut from a simple, timely, operational need to a complex, long-term problem.
– The supervisor-manager needs to be trained in the decision-making process.
– Management must be committed to following through on the decision, or group decisions quickly become academic exercises or an employee disturbance.
– While group decision making is a valuable team tool for business effectiveness, if overused, it can be time consuming and counterproductive. Use it sparingly, and only for important decisions.
– The management styles of some organizations preclude group decision making. Supervisors are uncomfortable with the process, and view it as allowing too much employee participation.
– Where management feels comfortable with the process, however, it can vastly increase unit effectiveness.
– While staff specialists can run group meetings, it is better if the immediate supervisor runs them himself. If he does not run the meeting, he should at least be present.
ï¿½ Grievance handling. A supervisor should not look upon a grievance as a challenge to his authority but as a chance to listen to and to solve an employee problem or concern. But he will not be inclined to do so unless management has a similar view of grievances.
– A grievance provides a valuable test of any organization communications system. It poses a number of questions. First, can an employee get a hearing? Secondly, has any sort of grievance procedure been established with levels of appeal? Thirdly, is there a mechanism for making widely applicable results known to supervisors and employees?
– Wherever possible, the grievance procedure should form an integral part of the employee communications system. It should be a means of improving job effectiveness rather than an adversary procedure.
– The most successful grievance handling occurs when the grievance is resolved between the first-line supervisor and the employee.
– Training of the first-line supervisor in the principles and techniques of grievance handling through role playing is valuable preparation for the real experience.
– Use actual grievances and their resolutions as the basis for supervisory discussion and training. Have supervisors discuss controversial and unique cases with all their employees.
– Publish noteworthy grievances in bulletins, newsletters, or other written media where they can inform or assist supervisors and employees.
– Do not be defensive. Make the grievance procedure work for management by openly acknowledging errors and correcting them, by exhibiting efforts toward fair and equitable settlements, by applying lessons learned.
– Wherever possible, allow the supervisor either to reveal the nature of the settlement to the employee or be a part, in some other way, of the settlement process. Don’t let the supervisor construe being over ruled as a loss of face, or a black mark. Help him learn by discussion and example, and give him management support.
ï¿½ Face-to-face communications -Sometimes called one-on-one or belly-to-belly communication, face to-face communication is probably the most meaningful form of employee communication.
– Help the supervisor carry out his communications role by asking him to explain certain policy and procedure items. Require that the supervisor ask employees for certain job information and their reactions to policies and /or procedures affecting their jobs.
– Give the supervisor training in self-expression 10 and in listening. Don’t try to mold supervisors into a fixed style. Let them be natural and use their own styles in dealing with employees. But see to it they have the training and support to handle employee contacts themselves and handle them well.
– Instruct supervisors to identify natural employee leaders and to help these employees, through exchange of opinions, understand key policies and procedures related to their jobs. Be straightforward, though, and avoid manipulation.
– Use different persons as sources for employee opinion to avoid getting a limited point of view. With the knowledge of supervisors, conduct employee surveys to determine how well supervisors are carrying out their communications responsibilities.
– Advise supervisors of things which should be passed on to employees, always mindful that they cannot pass information on unless they know and understand it themselves.
– Be sure that the supervisor’s job assignments allow him sufficient time to do his employee-communications job adequately.