"the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."
George Bernard Shaw
Communication is essential to every organization for it to function effectively. And as Shaw observes, effective communication can be challenging, particularly in today's workplace. Communication is required to increase efficiency, satisfy customers, improve quality, and create innovative products and services. Communication links everyone together and facilitates organizational success.
Effective communication is so important for organizational success that not only managers but employees as well must be effective communicators. One task of a manager is to help employees improve their communication skills. When all members of a team, department, or organization are able to communicate effectively with each other and with people outside their group, they are all more likely to perform well.
Merriam-Webster defines communication as "a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior" (Merriam-Webster, 2011). Communication then in the workplace involves the exchange of information between individuals or groups to reach a common understanding. A critical aspect of this exchange is that the information or ideas that are shared must be understood (BOMI, 2011).
All too often, good communication is incorrectly defined by the communicator as agreement rather than clarity of understanding. It is helpful to note that communication can occur, and that all parties understand the same information, without there being agreement between them (BOMI, 2011).
To communicate effectively, it helps to have a basic understanding of the communication process. The process consists of two phases, transmission and feedback. In the transmission phase, information is sent from one individual or group, the sender, to another individual or group, the receiver. The process begins when the sender translates the information that he wants sent, the message, into symbols or language. In the feedback phase, the receiver acknowledges receipt of the message, which acknowledgment can contain confirmation that the original message was received and understood, or a restatement of the original message to make sure that it was correctly interpreted, or a request for more information (BOMI, 2011).
As communication takes place, it is impacted by perception, which is the process through which people select, organize, and interpret sensory input to give meaning and order to the world around them. Perception is inherently subjective and is influenced by people's personalities, values, attitudes, moods, experience, and knowledge. When senders and receivers communicate with each other, they do so based on their own subjective perceptions. Perception plays a key role in communication, affecting both transmission and feedback (BOMI, 2011).
Communication using words may be written or spoken, which is verbal communication, or it may be nonverbal, which includes all messages that are encoded without using written or spoken language. Nonverbal communication shares information through facial expressions, body language, and even through style of dress. Physical elements such as buildings, office furniture, and space also convey messages. Office arrangements can convey messages of status, power, and prestige (BOMI, 2011).
One should pay close attention to nonverbal behaviors when communicating. It is important to coordinate verbal messages with nonverbal behavior and to be sensitive to what employees, managers, and peers are saying nonverbally. It is all too easy to underestimate the powerful impact that nonverbal communication has on the perceptions of others; nonverbal messages can undermine or contradict verbal or written messages. A message derives its meaning only in a context, and cues or signals are easy to misinterpret (BOMI, 2011).
There are some communications which should only be done face-to-face, as opposed to by telephone or in writing. Face-to-face communication provides immediate feedback and is the richest medium for communicating because of the many information channels it provides by way of voice, eye contact, posture, and body language. On the other hand, telephone or spoken communications that are electronically transmitted provide only the cue of voice inflection, minus the visual cues available from face-to-face interaction. The telephone is the appropriate medium for quick exchanges of information and for monitoring progress, but not for personal matters like discipline. Written communication conveys only the cues written on paper, and is slow to provide feedback (BOMI, 2011).
Exciting advances in information technology have dramatically increased the speed of communication. One can now communicate more easily with the rest of the organization, and access information more quickly to make decisions. One should be familiar with the latest advances in technology to remain competitive, but no technology should be implemented without carefully considering how it might improve communication and performance in a particular group, team, department, or organization (BOMI, 2011).
The benefits of effective communication in the workplace happen for both individuals and the organization. In most cases, the individual experiences less tangible, soft benefits, such as
A happier, less-frustrating workplace experience
Freedom to focus on other more productive activities
An increase in satisfaction from workplace activities and workplace relationships
Increased productivity leading to an increase in pay, promotion, and prestige
For the organization, the benefits are often more tangible and measurable:
Successful task completion
Greater customer loyalty and retention, leading to increased revenues
Freedom to focus on other business functions
Conversely, ineffective workplace communication has a number of negative consequences for both the individual and the organization, including frustration, and higher employee turnover ("Effective Communication," 2011).
Organizations and their stakeholders must often work together to ensure effective communication in the workplace. The organization's role in effective communication includes the following functions:
Developing, testing and implementing effective communication channels such as processes for complaints, criticisms, and grievances; open door policies between managers and subordinates; standardized templates to ensure effective communication between the business and external stakeholders
Making sure that passive checks and balances are in place to ensure stakeholders are communicating in an adequate manner
Conducting employee surveys or studies to evaluate the effectiveness of workplace communication within the organization
The individual employee's role in effective communication includes the following:
Buying-in to the organizational communication philosophy and culture
Demonstrating active listening when interacting with colleagues and external associates
Respecting the opinion and point-of-view of others ("Effective Communication," 2011)
As with any other relationship, communication is important to the success of business relationships. A business relationship can be one between business and customer, or the internal relationships among different employees within the company. Communication can almost always be improved, no matter the company or its size ("Poor Communication," 2011).
Many circumstances contribute to poor workplace communication, and awareness of these issues is the first step toward discovering and resolving them. In what seems to be coincidence, employers are frequently the last to find out that there is indeed poor communication within their companies, which ironically is a direct result of poor communication. It just makes sense that when information is not properly flowing down within a business, it would also not be flowing up well either ("Poor Communication," 2011).
Ineffective communication skills in an organization can dramatically impact the company's bottom line. According to research by Watson Wyatt, Gallup Consulting and Towers Perrin, these costs can include:
Increased employee turnover
Dissatisfied customers resulting from poor customer service
Higher product defect rates
Lack of focus on business objectives
Stifled innovation (Craemer, 2010)
One of the most aggravating elements of poor communication in today's workplace is a lack of information for employees to properly accomplish necessary tasks within a business. Notwithstanding the fact that ours is an information overload society, employees frequently lack the information they require to do their jobs. Frequently it is information that supervisors and co-workers have, but which has not been properly shared, that remains unshared ("Poor Communication," 2011).
There are many techniques that business coaches recommend to create effective workplace communication. One means is to set up ongoing formal communication programs.
One such program to put in place is setting up regular, one-to-one coaching, mentoring, or feedback meetings. All employees should receive some form of regular, one-to-one communication with their manager, whether it occurs through a formal meeting or an informal chat in the break room. Employees should be given time to prepare, both out of courtesy and also to encourage a two-way discussion (In-Tuition, 2011).
There should also be regular department or team meetings. Discuss progress since the last meeting, what lies ahead, and also use the opportunity to give positive feedback and improve morale. Another type of meeting is the team briefing, which is used to pass information from the top of the business down to all employees. Team meetings also allow employees to send feedback to the top management (In-Tuition, 2011).
Focus groups are yet another vehicle for workplace communication. Invite interested employees to attend a focus group on a business issue, e.g. workplace energy conservation. This type of meeting allows a manager or supervisor to get useful information from employees who may not otherwise be involved (In-Tuition, 2011).
If the department budget allows, take the management group offsite for a day and an evening. Provide training, a business update…