In the wide world of business that spans the range from small, locally owned business to internationally established corporations there exist many components that depending upon how they are deployed, can make or break an enterprise.
One of the foremost and obvious 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.” This area of expertise involves a whole subset of people skills oriented toward managing individuals and helping them function as a team. Among the many skills falling within the realm of employee management, arguably one of the most important is communication.
Communication itself consists of much more than simply speaking and listening. Understanding body language, intonation, intent – and how to correctly perceive and interpret them are a major factor in the process. Take all this and further complicate the situation with variables and biases such as multiculturalism, gender differences and religious dogmas that don’t always see eye to eye. What becomes evident is a virtual Gordian Knot of potential communication breakdown.
With such widespread potential for messages between co-workers to be mis-interpreted and potentially engender conflict, what can be done to clarify these tangled 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 international (and civil) wars and our inability to live in peace within our own borders, it seems a wonder that we can come together and communicate at all. Despite the potential obstacles inherent to the process, positive communication can indeed be accomplished if people are willing to learn.
It is of no surprise then, that businesses the world over are beginning to integrate strategic communication education into their operational philosophy and practice. Many are introducing this training in the classroom or as Elearning courses where employees can move through the course material, at their own pace or as a blend of both. The more people who become knowledgeable about this process, the greater the chances are of overcoming miscommunication and preventing conflict.
One of the most important elements when learning how to communicate effectively in the workplace, is developing the art of listening. While it is important to be able to clearly express one’s thoughts and opinions in an intelligent and concise manner (sender), it is even more critical to understand how to correctly process what is being communicated (receiver).
The first step in an active listening process is learning how to control the reflex to immediately respond even before the sender has completed their message. So many of us, especially when faced with an accusation of one kind or another, immediately jump into the verbal fray with a rebuttal. Most times the reply is out of our mouths well before the sender is finished speaking.
When this occurs the full meaning of the message is lost and defensiveness can quickly escalate into conflict. In an effective communication exchange it is important for both parties that each must be allowed to express their complete message while the other party actually listens. This means the receiver is actually paying attention to what is being said rather than mentally composing their reply resulting in distraction.
What is being coached by communication experts in today’s workplace is that each party should take a moment before they say their piece. This allows time to help move from emotion into logic for comprehension and reflection, diminishing the chance of misinterpretation. Experts also coach the technique of “courteous repetition.” The idea is that prior to a reply, the receiver repeats what has just been said back to the sender, in order to demonstrate that they have understood. For example: “ Robert, let me see if I heard you correctly…” or “ Suzanne, let me see if I’ve understood all five items we need for the board meeting?” In the absence of the receiver facilitating this, the sender can seek clarity by asking the receiver to repeat the message. This is extremely important where issues of safety are involved or when the accountability to others exists through the actions of the receiver.
Conflict and Resolution
Conflict and resolution can take many different forms. The key is to recognize it as it is about to happen or is being witnessed as happening and to diffuse before it escalates into one or all of the three productivity and relationship killers – Resistance, Resentment, Revenge ( and at times – Resignation). If the conflict fails to be resolved, it may become important to involve a third party as a mediator. This mediator should be an outside expert in the field of mediation who is hired to anchor the mediation or to train inside leaders the art of mediation. Experience strongly suggests that employing this unbiased third party resource is far more time and relationship effective in guiding the problem to a satisfactory conclusion.
One of the worst tactics that can be employed during a disagreement is irrationality or belligerence, such as name calling and blaming.. This is called making things personal and results in taking things personally. Experts recommend that if the exchange does devolve to this point, it is in the best interest for everyone to walk away, take a break and either try again or seek mediation. When the emphasis of the argument shifts from the subject of disagreement to personal attack, all hope of mutual resolution is compromised.
In summary, to lessen the risk of miscommunication and misunderstanding occurring, organizations need to be putting at least as much emphasis on their people dynamics (High Touch) as they are on operational strategies (High Task) by exposing their corporate culture to basic communication skills learning such as listening and responding. Listening in the workplace is a valuable skill. Any organization in today’s world can benefit from teaching its people how to negotiate positive communication obstacles and practices.This is definitely a top-down effect.. Leadership needs to demonstrate consistent communication skills if they desire staff to follow suit. If there is any doubt of where to turn when it comes to selecting basic and / or advanced communication skills check out our web site.