Communication is the channel through which an organization’s culture is influenced, for better or worse. Usually this means from the management to the employees. Rarely does it mean the opposite, from employees to the management.
One-way or two-way?
In order for communication to take place, however, there has to be a dialogue. It can’t be one party doing all the talking. We call that a monologue. If that’s what you do, then you need to recognize it for what it is and then change your behaviour.
Because communication is two-way, the direction of the conversation changes according to the responses given by each person, or group of people. To look at that another way, the discussion is really a string of reactions. Each party reacts to what the other has said.
Often we think of reactions as being something that is solely negative, but they can be positive. We only need to remember that what people say back to us – what employees say back to managers or what managers say to employees – is a reaction to something else to whatever went before.
For example, let’s say that you as an employee observe your boss coming into the office. You say, “Good morning”, but she replies “What’s good about it?” and then walks off. Perhaps you think that the conversation has stopped.
It has continued in your mind. You’ll mull over it. You’ll wonder what’s going on. You’ll tread carefully in your boss’ presence. You may even avoid her altogether, and you may warn others to do the same. That’s the power of a conversation. It’s also an example of how communication can have a negative effect on your organization.
Let’s think of another example.
Suppose that this time you’re the boss. Your kid has been sick all night, so you didn’t get much sleep. You walk in the door and you’re met with a “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” employee who loves getting up early.
“Good morning!”, he says.
How should you respond? That depends on a lot of things. Your organization’s culture is one. The perception that you want people to have of you is another. You also want to think about the impact that you’ll have on the productivity of that person and those that he / she encounters during the day. When people worry, they can’t concentrate fully on their jobs.
So you can see that as a manager you have the greatest impact on your employees in any conversation. What you say and do sets the tone much more than what they say or do. That’s because they are simply reacting to you and the authority that you have.
Let’s look at an example to illustrate this.
We are all equal
Every once in awhile, managers will have a meeting with their subordinates that is intended to be a sort of “round table”. The basic idea is that they try to “one of them”. They may even say so: “I’m just like the rest of you. There’s no rank in this meeting. I want you to pretend that I’m not your boss.”
How well do you think that works in practice?
If you’re a manager, you probably see nothing amiss and you may even wonder what all the fuss is. But employees can’t forget that whatever the boss says about being one of them, he / she is still the boss. And if truth be told, neither can the boss. It may all go swimmingly while the meeting remains positive, but as soon as someone makes a personal attack on the management, it can go pear-shaped in a big hurry. And that’s when the boss reveals that he / she really wasn’t one of them and knew it all along, and everyone else finds out the truth.
More damage is done, that is the culture is negatively impacted, than if the meeting hadn’t been held in the first place.
The point is that there’s more to productive communication than what managers and employees say to one another. Behind that is how they do it – the motives, the tone, the objectives even, and the blame.
Most employees are just trying to “get on”. They want to come to work, do what is required, and go home. This is not to say that they lack ambition to advance, that they’re not interested in challenging work or any of the other things that are known to motivate them. What it does mean is that they want to please those for whom they work and avoid confrontations. Positive communication with their bosses enables them to do this; negative communication does not.
When managers blame their employees for failures in their organizations, whether it’s just or unjust, they are communicating a message. And whether it’s justified or not, employees will react to the criticism in a particular way.
That reaction will change the organization’s culture.
Since most people just want to “get on”, they probably will accept quite a lot of blame for a while; but like the straw that broke the camel’s back there will come a time when the culture shifts. In other words, the criticism will cease to be productive. Instead it will yield unproductive behaviour.
You can avoid much of that by taking care special care at the beginning and in all of your communication to give praise where it is due, hold accountable those who should be for what they do and say, and to personally avoid sending unnecessary negative “vibes” to those people on whom you depend the most: your employees.
Equally, if you’re an employee, you must find a way to be content. Constant whinging is enough to distract the most positive person and such interruptions can interfere with their productivity, too. At first, you may be tolerated. If you continue to murmur, then you may find that you’re promotion opportunities start to disappear. Eventually, it could be decided that you’re not a good fit for the organization.
Although managerial communication hasthe greatest impact on the productivity of an organization, employees also have influence. They, together with their colleagues, will accomplish a great deal more if they’re positive about what they think, say, and do, than if they spend their time moaning and groaning about the imperfections of where they work. That’s not to say that improvements shouldn’t be sought. Far from it. All of you have a responsibility to look for ways to make things better. But you should do it with positive and productive attitudes. As Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems with the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”.
If you want to improve your internal communication – contact us here