Communication is agreed as one of the central tenets of a healthy organization. We all know its value, and leaders would decry its importance in their organizations. So how do so many get it wrong? Why is poor communication one of the most often cited reasons for conflict, mistakes and failure? In a recent survey, out of 400 corporations that replied, they estimated $37 billion was lost due to employee misunderstanding or errors caused by poor communication (citation). With this kind of fiscal impact, what do we do to improve our organizational effectiveness in this area?
There is a plethora of information available with advice and tricks to help with communication. And to be quite candid, it often appears to be pretty basic advice: use humor, show empathy, make eye contact, etc. etc. Page after page of helpful articles found online with anywhere from 5 to 21 tips on how to communicate more effectively. One has to wonder if these suggestions are all too basic. Effective communication is layered and nuanced. There are so many levels to address: interpersonal, group or teams, departmental, regional and national, and that’s just a sampling of the internal constituents. External audiences need just as much attention, and can be even harder to reach. We must be purposeful for each audience in message content, frequency, and accessibility. Tailoring specific messages to each group helps the audience to gain clarity and insight in what you are trying to say. Non-verbal content is more powerful that written or verbal messaging. And what about passive communication that comes from our ever-present digital footprint? Good communication is a never-ending effort that requires constant attention.
There is something to the simplicity of effective communication. Those articles with the quick buzz words of important ideas:
- Learn to listen.
- Understand their needs.
- Be visible and present.
- Make time and make it a priority.
These hallmarks of effective communication are basic relational tools, and they are accurate, even in their seeming obvious nature. They are necessities of effective communication because they are foundational to good relationships. If we apply to principles of healthy relationships to all our communication efforts, we will reap the benefits of not only good communication but also good connection. And the better our relationships with our audiences, the higher propensity for the message to be received with its accurate intention.
While relationships are certainly not a prerequisite for effective communication, they can be a beneficial by-product. Good communication is a building block for trust (do you trust someone who gets the message wrong more than they get it right? Who doesn’t do what they say? Who doesn’t tell you the truth?) And when good communication happens well repeatedly, we build trust with the messenger, whether it’s an individual or an organization. This trust becomes the foundation upon which the relationship begins and grows.
At Apricot Consulting, we believe it’s all about relationships. Effective communication is integral to building and maintaining any relationship – interpersonal or organizational, internal or external, customers or employees, leaders or front-line workers.
So, learn to listen. Hear and understand what your audiences are saying. Communication by nature is two-way; it’s not just the message you send. It’s even more important to hear the reply.
Understand their needs. Grasp their perspective to better interpret their message, and target yours. You have to know your audience to understand these needs. Take the time.
Be visible and present. Make sure your people know you are there, and when you’re there, you are paying attention.
Make time and make it a priority. Like good relationships, quality communication takes time. That difficult conversation is not going to happen well if it’s squeezed into a hallway meeting. People won’t have clarity and comprehension if you are constantly rushing to the next thing. Unapologetically build time into your day to ensure you have margin to finish the story and allow – even ask – others to contribute.
The benefits are profound. Stronger relationships help reduce conflict, build teams, and deepen employee satisfaction and engagement. Human beings thirst for community, and trusting relationships are what form this feeling of intrinsic connection. Effective communication is the key to making it happen.