In large and small businesses, there exist many factors that — depending upon how they are employed — can truly make or break an enterprise. Aside from such perennial standbys as “research prior to investment” and “location, location, location”, there are a few core concepts that are universal to the successful operation of any company.
One of the foremost would most likely be competent money management. Coming in a very close second however, would be a discipline that has been known by various titles over time. Today we recognize the field as “human resources” or “employee management”. This area involves an entire subset of people skills oriented toward running a group of individuals and helping them to function as a team working towards a common goal. Among the many people skills falling under the realm of employee management, arguably the most important is communication.
Communication itself consists of much more than simply speaking and listening. Body language and how to interpret it has become a major factor in the process. This becomes even more of a challenge with a diverse workforce. When it comes to such massive potential for messages between co-workers to be mis-interpreted and subsequently cause personality conflict, what is the most effective way to unblock these confused pathways to understanding?
If one was to attempt to answer this question by simply observing the greater world around them, they would most likely come to the conclusion that it cannot be done. Between our international wars over religion and our local inability to live peaceably among one another, it seems a wonder that we can come together and communicate at all. What we know is that it is a wonder, and it can indeed be accomplished if individuals are willing to be educated to the process. That willingness however, needs to be voluntary and as we all know from life experience, not everyone is open to learning new things.
A Two-Way Street
It is definitely to our advantage then, that businesses and companies all over the world have begun to integrate communication courses and learning systems into their philosophy of success. As communication education becomes a skillset required of employees and expected of those in leadership positions, the ability to properly understand one another and react positively to certain methods of communication is accepted by more and more people. The more people who become educated, the greater our chances of overcoming miscommunication and averting potential conflict.
One of the most important practices in learning how to communicate effectively in the workplace is developing the skills of listening. While it is indeed important to be able to clearly express one’s thoughts and opinions in an intelligent and concise manner, it is even more critical to understand how to process someone else’s message directed towards the listener (or for our purposes here, the receiver). If the incoming message from the sender is misconstrued during reception, then the outgoing response is sure to be well off the mark and will end up directly exasperating the exchange.
The first step in an active listening process is learning how to control the reflex to respond. So many of us, especially when faced with an accusation of one kind or another immediately jump into the fray with a verbal retort intending to defend our position. Most times the reply is out of our mouths well before the first individual is done speaking. This is about as far away from listening as it is possible to get. In an effective communication exchange, it is vitally important for both parties to understand that each much be allowed to speak.
Once the sender has said their bit, it is time for the receiver to reply. What is being coached by communication experts in today’s workplace is that each party should take a moment before they speak back. This allows time for the words to be fully comprehended and lessens the chance of misinterpretation. When and if the exchange becomes too heated for any positive progress, it becomes important to involve a third party as a mediator. This of course can be difficult to do for just any conflict on the street. However in the workplace, individuals in a communications leadership role can be well trained and prepared to step into the middle of a disagreement and help structure the exchange so as to bring it back onto a positive course.
Listen And Repeat
Communications instructors also encourage the practice of “courteous repetition”. This is basically a method that clarifies a statement back to the sender in order to demonstrate that the receiver has indeed correctly understood what was said. This is meant to take place prior to the receiver making their personal reply. For instance:
- Sender: “What you did back there stepped on my toes and really hurt my feelings.”
- Receiver: “So you are saying that by me answering the bosses’ question I overstepped my bounds?
- Sender: “Yes!”
- Receiver: “Well I apologize my actions made you feel that way, but this is why I acted as I did….”
What is happening here is the beginning of a disagreement held in a civil manner. The receiver has showed respect to the sender by recognizing their feelings and position. They have taken the time to listen before rebuttal and attempting to explain their actions. A little bit of understanding and respect can go a long way.
Now even though this workplace conflict has begun in a cordial manner, as any of us knows, things can fly out of control easily. One of the worst messages that can be brought into a disagreement is irrationality and name calling. This is called making it personal. Workplace communication experts recommend that when this scenario takes place, it is in the best interest of both parties to walk away, take a break and seek mediation. When emphasis of the argument shifts from the subject of disagreement to personal attack, all hope of mutual resolution is compromised. Until a third party can step in and bring rational words back into the equation, personal attack on another individual will solve nothing.
Communication in the workplace is a valuable skill and any company in today’s world can benefit from teaching its people how to negotiate positive communication. This is definitely a “top-down’ practice, so instructing people in a leadership role before implementing the practice company wide is highly recommended.
For more information on programs that can help your organization with communication, click here.