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What Do You Say? Can We Communicate Better at Work?

Support Performance and Engagement by Improving Information Exchange

Adopt better communication in your organization

Thinking about internal organizational communication, consider the following scenarios:

  • Within a sales meeting, two executives started talking about a “hot deal” where the company received a contract waiting for execution, as if everyone in the room knew of this deal. The CRM (customer relationship management software) manager, who typically audits records of sales-related activities, asked whether anyone entered this deal and its stakeholders into the CRM because she couldn’t find any records on the sales report. No one had entered the information, and the manager asked about other deals missing from the system. One by one, the sales team began reporting undocumented deals totaling hundreds of thousands of revenue for the company. The details resided only within the minds and/or on the scratch paper of the salespeople and executives.

  • When submitting a brochure to a client, an executive scolded the marketing manager for having contact information for a specific salesperson on the brochure. With a snarky tone, the executive said, “Hello… Fred doesn’t work here anymore.” The marketing manager stated that no one in the company knew of this personnel change.

  • An employee who worked for the company for only a few weeks entered some information into the project management software and received an error message. She reported this issue to her manager, who shamed her, stating that she should have known that the system requires information within two specific fields. However, the employee received no formal training on the system and never received instruction on company policies and procedures regarding using this software.

What do these scenarios have in common? They each lack open, transparent, and effective communication with negative consequences. Unfortunately, these issues develop within organizations of many different types. However, research suggests that organizational cultures that embrace clear, symmetrical, and transparent communication (Lee, 2022)


According to Robbins & Judge (2017), group or organizational communication intends to serve five functions: sharing information, persuading others, providing feedback, managing projects or operations, and expressing emotions. These functions form the basis for organizational behavior, the way workers act and respond to others, including how they form relationships, perform their work, and contribute to the strategic objectives and value of the organization. When communication cannot fulfill these functions, the organization may suffer poor work quality, distrust among employees, and a bunch of people who have begun to get their resumes together to move on to greener pastures, resulting in lost human capital from which the organization derives its value (Esho & Verhoef, 2020).


How Communication Works

Effective and symmetrical organizational communication works within a closed system. While external elements inform the message, the main stakeholders include the sender and the receiver providing messages and feedback, switching roles. The following chart illustrates the flow of communication.


Communication Process

If any part of this system experiences issues, communication can degrade. Let us consider a scenario most experience daily: a phone call on our mobile devices.

  • Message Formation: If the sender does not have a clear objective in the call, we begin with problems. A poorly formed message results in misinformation or missing information right off the bat.

  • Message Coding: If the sender cannot express the message – in other words, code it – the receiver may be unable to decipher what the sender says. Elements such as poor grammar, language translation, a lack of empathy, or speaking in jargon can contribute to bad coding.

  • Channel: The channel in this scenario is a mobile network. Poor reception, device malfunctions, and other technical issues can cause interference. However, lacking competency in using this technology may also cause problems. After all, not everyone feels comfortable using a smartphone or specific Bluetooth devices.

  • Reception: Again, while technical difficulties can present interference in reception, other sources of lousy reception include personal biases resulting in close-mindedness, an unwillingness to use the communication channel, or a lack of skills in intercepting the call or responding to voicemail.

  • Decoding: The receiver may experience difficulty in understanding the message. A lack of training may present a knowledge gap in understanding the subject matter, or a poorly coded message may not allow precise translation.

  • Feedback: Finally, without feedback – without a two-way exchange of information – the phone call generally results in someone disengaging. Think of how often you pick up a call from a pre-recorded message and how quickly you hang up the line.

As you can see if any of the elements of the system experience a disturbance, a potential communication breakdown exists.


Effect of Organizational Communication Among Employees

In a recent Forbes article (Jolaoso, 2023), the author cites a Grammarly report that states that miscommunication can cost organizations more than $12K per employee annually. As many as 7% of employees report increased stress due to poor communication. This does not present a recipe for success. Within an economy where organizations struggle to find and retain talent, leaders must find ways to improve communication to meet the expectations and well-being of employees.



Workers Communicating

Organizations that foster cultures of communication that allow for clear reception, feedback, and two-way conversation with little fear of retaliation for differing viewpoints provide symmetrical communication (Lee, 2023). Within this kind of environment, research suggests employees exhibit more collaboration, more idea sharing, and feelings of fairness and organizational commitment when the company has a complete communication circuit. Moreover, employees value transparency, and the employee-organization relationship depends on substantial levels of trust, which begets job satisfaction. Open communication with honesty and integrity during discussions across channels builds trust and goodwill (Bergman et al., 2016). When organizations sow the seeds of distrust through information hoarding, misinformation, or a lack of clarity, they risk breaking the psychological contract between workers and their employers.


Leaders’ Roles in Better Communication

Leaders might find value in the following recommendations for better communication:

  • Level the playing field: Where transactional leaders focus on a top-down approach to communication (i.e., “do as I say” or “only my opinion matters”), transformational leaders tend to operate on a more horizontal plane rather than a strictly vertical exchange of information. Forbes shares that leaders who exhibit empathy, remain positive in the messaging, and communicate clearly with thoughtful messages based on critical thinking and self-reflection can create more effective communication cultures (Eliadis, 2020).

  • Individualize communications: In marketing, one concept prevails in developing content and advertising: know your audience. By understanding the people within the organization, how they prefer to receive communication, their level of competence (knowledge, skills, and abilities) on communication channels, and their individual needs for information and expression, leaders possess tremendous power to improve communication and foster better engagement and commitment among workers. Leverage various communication channels to deliver messages to hit the right people at the right time.

  • Train and develop people: Take the time and resources to offer onboarding to new staff and ongoing training to existing employees to allow all to understand and decode communications better. Teach managers better techniques to document expectations, elicit communication from their team members, and select the proper channels.

  • Trust more: Withholding information out of distrust of others only fosters distrust among those other people. Adopt information-sharing policies and procedures to secure data, but exercise openness and honesty to share information with team members with trust and confidence in their willingness to exercise organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs), including sharing their informational assets with the company.

With a change in mindset toward relationship building, leveraging many of the same communication techniques we use in our outside-of-work social interactions, organizations can improve employee trust, resulting in more engagement, improved performance, and increased commitment.


References


Bergman, C., Dellve, L., & Skagert, K. (2016). Exploring communication processes in workplace meetings: A mixed methods study in a Swedish healthcare organization. Work, 54(3), 533–541. https://doi.org/10.3233/WOR-162366



Esho, E. & Verhoef, G. (2020). A holistic model of human capital for value. Business & Management. Cogent. https://doi.org/10.1080/23311975.2020.1728998


Grammarly. (2023). The Path to Productivity, Performance, and Profit: 2023 State of Business Communication. https://go.grammarly.com/business-communication-report


Jolaoso, C. (2023). 10 Tips For Effective Communication In The Workplace. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/business/effective-communication-workplace/


Lee, Y. (2022). Personality traits and organizational leaders' communication practices in the United States: Perspectives of leaders and followers. Corporate Communications, 27(3), 595-615. doi:https://doi.org/10.1108/CCIJ-10-2021-0118


Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2018). Organizational behavior (18th Edition). Pearson Education (US). https://mbsdirect.vitalsource.com/books/9780134729749

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