Critical Elements of Effective Communication
Organizations cannot function without effective communication, and the actions of every team member – verbal, nonverbal, written, or electronic – will influence opinions and affect the team’s overall goals. It is imperative that when crafting and delivering a message, you are: utilizing the proper communication channel, aware of your own communication style, and crafting your message so that it is clear and being received as you intended. In order to address these critical elements of effective communication, you must merge your learned interpersonal skills with knowledge and proper use of technology tools that organizations have come to rely on.
Proper Communication Channel
Let us first examine what it means to utilize the proper communication channel, as this point is where technology and conflict can often intersect. The evolution of communication technologies continue to make organizations run more efficiently, giving even the smallest businesses a global presence and a direct link to their customers. While organizations should be quick to embrace these tools, they should do so with caution. Overreliance on communication technology can undermine the ability to effectively connect with employees and potential business partners, and managers who become too dependent on these tools may instead create a chasm of distance between themselves and the parties being addressed.
Modern businesses may use more than one tool to communicate with employees and customers. Specialized platforms such as Slack allow companies to separate employees into project groups in order to work together, social media management platforms such as Hootsuite allow managers to assign tasks and employees to interact virtually with an audience, and email remains a reliable way to send messages and other communications throughout an organization. For a manager or employee delivering a message through one of these technologies, there is always the risk of message failure. One must be mindful of everything from timing to channel richness (Baack, 2012) when sending the message.
Electronic communication can also fail the sender when the tone of the message isn’t conveyed as intended. We exist in a world in which millions of people communicate via social media in 140 characters or less, and it can be extremely challenging to express thoughts and intentions in such a confined space. As Becker, Boswell, and Butts (2015) argued, “Whether intentional or not, electronic communication is capable of delivering an emotionally charged tone” (as cited by Barsade & Gibson, 2007, and Walther, 1996). If a person sending a message isn’t mindful of capital letters, punctuation, or verbiage, the recipient may react negatively to what was intended as a polite request or interaction. Moreover, individual differences such as age, personality, gender, and exclusive language (Baack, 2012) may be amplified when electronic communication isn’t properly received. One need only look to the current news cycle for an example of a “social media fail” in which a person sending a message found that it wasn’t conveyed as intended (Reyes, 2016). When this scenario happens within an organization, it has the potential to create conflict between the messenger and the receiver.
Organizations that do business on a global scale – electronically or face-to-face – can ill afford to have their messages ignored or misinterpreted because of such differences. Consider a potential business relationship between a Chinese company and an American company. According to Pan Fan and Zhang Zigang (2004), “If American managers want to do business with Chinese managers, they should give their Chinese partners enough time to know themselves and develop a personal relationship with them.” Americans would need to take great care to learn more about the Chinese culture prior to beginning the relationship, and the company could employ cultural assimilators to “avoid any lapses in manners as well as explain how to show friendliness and respect in a host country” (Baack, 2012). From an organizational perspective, effectively communicating your intentions may require extensive knowledge of that country’s laws and everything from employee wage rate to currency exchange rates (Davis, Latham, and Sadeghinejad, 2015).
Just as you must be cautious when choosing the proper communication channel, you must be constantly aware of your own communication style. If you’ve ever come across someone with no self-awareness, you know how the lack of internal filter can undermine the ability to communicate. Self-awareness encompasses more than just the words coming out of your mouth, but also your body language. Nonverbal communication plays an important role in your communication style. Picture a manager trying to explain a new initiative to his/her employees. The words on paper may be inspiring -- talk of winning over new customers with a new product and becoming the most successful company in the field. But if the message is delivered with the manager seated behind a desk, eyes gazing out the window as he/she speaks – that’s not going to inspire many people. Now picture the manager standing in front of the room, looking his/her employees in the eyes and emphatically describing how this inventive new product is going to be a “game-changer” for the organization – the message is likely to be received much more positively by the group.
Being aware of your communication style will also allow you to maintain composure in a business setting, and not risk your emotions geting the better of you, which can occur at all levels of an organization. Anger, sadness, envy or jealousy, and romantic attitudes can threaten to disrupt communication from sender to receiver and vice versa (Baack, 2012). Losing control of your emotions in a conversation can result in the other person simply putting up a mental wall and blocking out everything you have to say because they are taken aback by the way you are saying it. Many of us have worked in high stress environments. The lack of self-monitoring among co-workers can lead to conflicts on a daily basis. For this reason, self-awareness and keeping your emotions in check is critical, especially if you want to grow into a management role (Timmins, 2011).
Becoming a manager does not mean you’ve “made it” and can stop evaluating your communication skills. Exactly the opposite, you must now increase your self-awareness and reevaluate (Davis and Rosenblatt, 2009) everything from your verbal and nonverbal communication technique to your listening abilities. Let us examine the latter, as your ability to listen and provide feedback will constantly be tested as a manager, often in one-on-one interactions with employees. Being prepared to actively listen and take notes will immediately remove some of the potential barriers to a successful interaction. When an employee engaging with a manager can see that the latter is focused solely on him/her, they feel relaxed and are much more likely to transmit and receive messages as intended. A manager supervising more than one employee will also want to take an individualistic approach to communication. As no two employees are alike, the manager may find what motivates one person does nothing for the other (Pauley and Pauley, 2009).
Failure to control your emotions as a manager may have a destructive influence on employees. As Davis and Rosenblatt (2009) stated, “Managers are in a position of power in relation to those whom they supervise, so there’s always a risk of intimidating others.” A manager must maintain composure and be aware of nonverbal actions – finger pointing, crossed arms, and frustrated looks are all examples of nonverbal cues that could create tension among employees.
Managers who are directly involved in conflict resolution must remain self-aware, even if their instincts are telling them to side with one employee over another. Once a manager has established the persons involved in the conflict and issues at hand, he/she must work to find what Baack (2012) termed the “bargaining zone” in which the conflicting parties can reach a resolution. If both sides feel the decision is satisfactory, the manager will have achieved a win-win solution (Baack, 2012). The role of a manager in conflict resolution is to act as a moderator and problem-solver, so it is imperative that he/she remains self-aware and does not show favor to either party. Doing so would risk damaging the outcome and losing favor with one or more employees.
Craft Your Message
A manager can self-monitor his/her communication techniques and be mindful to use the proper communication channel, but unless the message is clear it will not be received as intended. If a CEO were to send a company memo letting everyone know the marketing team is doing a “good job” but sales needs to “step it up,” that would lead to a lot of questions from both teams. What exactly was marketing doing that was effective? In which area does sales need to improve? The clarity of your communication is just as important as the message itself. This precision applies to everything from verbal to written communication, and also presentations in which managers are speaking to employees or C-level executives.
Developing an effective communication style takes time and practice. It is something that is learned over time and through failure – sometimes many failures. It is never perfect and must be adjusted depending on the person with whom you are communicating and the method by which you are transmitting or receiving a message. But ensuring that you’ve addressed the critical elements -- learning the proper channels, self-monitoring your methods, and communicating in a clear manner -- will greatly enhance your chances of success in any role.
Written by Jason R. Latham, Content Manager for Bridgepoint Education.
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