Can We Talk? Apparently Not When It Matters Most.
When you ask people to rate themselves in terms of communication ability, the most common response is “slightly above average.” In fact, more than 80% tend to rate ourselves as average or above. Of course that’s not mathematically possible, so at least 30% of us are somewhat deluded in terms of our self-perception.
Authentic business communication is especially difficult for businesspeople during tough economic times. It is possible to be a successful business leader of you are totally honest and open in your communication with others?
Poor communication is partly the result of ineffective communication skills, but it is also caused by being in too much of a hurry to communicate clearly. Of course, some employees are poor listeners as well, but the best managers always take responsibility for getting through to all employees, even those with poor listening skills.
Good Intentions Don’t Equal Good Communication
Managers who make an effort to communicate clearly often do so by providing extra detail or by being unusually precise. They assume they have their employees’ undivided attention when, very often, their minds are racing with all the things they are in a hurry to do. It is vital to prepare listeners by telling them to relax and forget about everything else for a moment so they can concentrate on getting the manager’s message.
The second critical step is to engage listeners as much as possible. This can be done in a number of ways, such as asking them to summarize the message at various stages when delivering the message. Listeners can also be asked questions about the message: what are the essential points, how will they apply it, what will they do differently or how would they convey the message to others. If listeners are not engaged, they will only retain a limited amount of what is said. Everyone switches off after a short time period.
There are other simple communication techniques that can help make the message stick. Using vivid or funny examples and images can help; so can any pictures. Making people laugh is a great way to hold their attention. Knowing your audience helps as well, but if it is large and varied, it is important to use various tactics to reach everyone. Some people remember numbers and other facts; others are impressed by a strong emotion, while still others like to hear an exciting vision. The more you can mix various elements into your message, the more listeners will retain the message.
Communicating Under Pressure
One of the biggest obstacles to good communication is pressure — the sheer volume of work people have to do and the limited amount of time they have to do it in. In addition, everyone at work today is suffering from information overload, which means that much of what is communicated to them will never make an impression, let alone be retained. During tough times in business, one of the first casualties is honest communication.
The first step in dealing with the impact of pressure on communication is to recognize the reality of it. If the communication is important enough, it is essential to give it the amount of time it deserves and to find a number of ways and occasions to repeat the message. When managers are in a hurry, they run the risk of leaving out important parts of a message and to assume that people understand what they mean. When listeners are in a hurry as well, the chances of clear communication are nearly zero.
The only way to deal with the information overload problem to prioritize by ranking every communication in terms of its importance, using labels such as critical, important, and useful. Of course, managers think that all of their communications are important if not critical. But failing to prioritize is like failing to be strategic. No person or business can do everything equally well. Those who think otherwise are bound to spread themselves too thinly and are likely to fail. Keep in mind the 80-20 rule – that 80% of your results will be achieved through 20% of your efforts.
This rule means that much of what we do is not adding much real value. Being strategic means identifying the 20% that is critical and investing most time and energy on those items. The same principle applies to communication. Managers who treat every communication as essential are simply adding to the information overload problem, not solving it. Given that the meaning of management is to get the best return out of all resources, then managers who do not prioritize their communications by some means are simply not managing.
When it comes to communicating under pressure, dealing with difficult issues, having the “tough” conversations we know we should (but often don’t) have, our self-perception becomes more realistic. Most of us acknowledge a tendency to first avoid difficult conversations, and when we do have them we recognize that we are not often as effective as we could be.