Lost in communication
Issue 81 - 7 December 2021 (6-min read)
Isn’t it frustrating when you spend 30 minutes crafting a long email with all the details, answering all the questions you can anticipate, only to have the person call you back to ask something that’s already mentioned in your email?
If that’s something that happens often to you, here’s a handy guide on how you can respond:
Bless the internet for helping us find humour in these situations but, seriously, when it happens in real life, it is not so easy to laugh.
This week in The Global Tiller, we dig deeper into the crisis of workplace communications. What works and what doesn’t? Why communication is increasingly becoming a necessary skill for all leaders, no matter their role in the organisation, and what are some good habits to cultivate to make office talk effective?
According to a new survey conducted by Axios HQ on The Workplace Communications Crisis, there’s a massive breakdown in how communication leaders engage their teams and how those teams view the details they receive. Their findings showed that 66% of communicators think they know what updates their employees need while only 31% of employees think that’s the case.
They found out that employees are not reading ad hoc updates sent by their managers. If you thought just forwarding an important news update for your team would ensure they actually read it, you’d be disappointed. Most employees ignore material sent their way unless it is made clear to them how it impacts them and their work.
In much the same way as news consumption is suffering at the hands of shorter attention spans, work emails are also just another 'content’ fighting for our attention. Employees are often only scanning long emails so your best bet is to get straight to the point, make your point many times and to keep it short.
In fact, Axios HQ advises that the question you should be asking yourself every time you share an update with the team is this: is this worth my colleagues’ time? To be honest, that’s a question worth asking for any and all communication we do, even outside of work. But that’s a topic for another day.
Paying attention to how we communicate within our organisations has always been important but even more so, when more and more of us are working remotely. With employees spread out geographically and across different time zones, effective communication is the only way to manage teams well. This, and paying them well. But that’s also a topic for another day.
When it comes to workplace communication, it is not just about listing your team’s to-do list but also creating an environment where employees feel they understand where they fit into the grand mechanism of the organisation and also understand what role their company plays in the society it exists. We talked about how employees trusted their company to share authentic information about Covid-19 at the outset of the pandemic more than they trusted news outlets in a previous issue. We also spoke about the increasing tendency of younger employees to expect their organisations to live their values.
As companies prepare for the future, which will bring more younger employees into their folds, pausing and thinking about how they communicate with this new generation of employees will be crucial. How can companies make sure their message gets across to their employees but also how are those employees encouraged to communicate back? How can we cut the noise that comes in this massive flow of information coming our way all the time to make sure the important stuff doesn’t get lost?
We’d love to hear what tricks you follow for effective workplace communication.
Until next week, take care and stay safe.
Hira - Editor - The Global Tiller
…and now what?
We are all beings of communication. We built the pyramids, we went to the moon, we manage complex projects every day and all because we are able to share efficiently information, facts and knowledge. It may be our nature, it may be our strength, but it’s definitely not our talent!
Let me explain. Being designed for something never makes anyone good at it. Just because we have two legs and we’re biologically designed to run, doesn’t mean all of us run like Usain Bolt or Eliud Kipchoge. We wish!
Communication is our natural ability but it has to be nurtured to become a talent. And more often, one obstacle that comes in the way is the tools we use. After we invented smart tools to help us communicate better, we forgot that we needed to make sure our message itself is clear, useful, consistent and adapted to our audience.
Isn’t it paradoxical that in the age of information we struggle so much to communicate? Is it because, when we made information and communication tools so readily available, that we eventually forgot that it required a little bit of our brains to do it properly?
Our biggest mistake, especially in many organisations, has been to assume that because we sent a message it’ll automatically be received and understood. We have tools to check that the message is received, but we can never assume it has been understood.
When we speak to our clients about communication, they often ask us for tools to improve their communications. They’re looking for technical procedures and fixes. They want easy solutions to solve communication problems within the organisation. And are often surprised when we tell them we won’t be providing any tools. Instead, we invite them to rethink how they envision communication.
The tool is one element but the first thing to understand is why we communicate as humans. We do it to share, we do it to collaborate, we do it because we went to connect with each other. Communication serves our deep need to belong and to be social beings. When we start from there, we change our perspective on how we communicate. It’s no longer about me and what I want to say, but more about who I’m talking to and what kind of interaction I want to create.
To be good communicators, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the person we want to talk to. We need to not only think about what we want to say but also how we’ll say it, when and to whom.
The famous science fiction writer Bernard Werber couldn’t have explained it better:
“Between what I think, what I want to say, what I believe I say, what I say, what you want to hear, what you believe to hear, what you hear, what you want to understand, what you think you understand, what you understand...They are ten possibilities that we might have some problem communicating. But let's try anyway…”
What’s important here is this: we need to try anyway. Because if we don’t, then we lose what makes us such a successful species.
We’ve built complex organisations out of our ability to communicate and we are taking them down merely due to our lack of talent. We can develop this talent by trying, putting our heart into it, learning from our mistakes and building the skills as we go by.
It’s important that we stop treating communication within our organisations as a matter of process and start treating it as a skill to master, as an aptitude to foster and grow the same way an artist develops their craft. It’ll take patience, perspective, understanding and a touch of our natural tendency to like to be with one another.
Philippe - Founder - Pacific Ventury