Dan Hadley examines the methods and factors affecting communication up, down and across the organisation
Communication is a tricky thing. Every professional in every industry has, on occasion, suffered from the ill-effects of miscommunication. The science behind communication is complicated when you get down to it. Psychologists and experts in organizational behavior both agree that things can and do go wrong when two people try to convey messages and accurately interpret those messages.
Human beings make sense of the world around them and build meaning into their place in it by assigning values and classifications to all the interactions and factors encountered. Objective meanings of things are the commonly agreed values, definitions, or classifications we have all agreed upon societally. Subjective meaning rests internally, almost privately, inside the mind of the individual. We can all agree that a car is a means of transport, but for some it’s a vital requirement of a business whilst for others it may be a lifestyle choice for pure enjoyment.
The same is true of communication. Anyone can pull a copy of the Oxford Dictionary off the shelf and let it inform them of the meaning of a word. It’s a simple but highly effective means of learning and settling objective meanings of ideas, terms, and concepts in the world. It’s a globally agreed format developed over hundreds, or thousands, of years depending on the language in question. Without the dictionary, we refer to “common knowledge” in place of the written word. Surprisingly, despite the complexity of human thought, common knowledge takes us, and has taken us, a long way for thousands of years.
But are we all operating on the exact same page when it comes to communication?
The Psychology of Communication
The psychology at play during human interaction and communication is complex and made up of varying emotions, standards, values, and behaviors. One example, amongst an ocean of possibilities in human behavioral differences, is the comparison of societal viewpoints on folding one’s arms whilst talking. This non-verbal communication portrays arrogance in some cultures whereas others see it as a sign that the listener is paying attention to the speaker. Thus, differences in meaning can and do occur before we even consider the actual spoken words.
The famous humanist psychologist Carl Rogers said, “As no one else can know how we perceive, we are the best experts on ourselves.” Rogers was right, and to put his quote another way, it is safe to say that no two people view the world the exact same way.
So, how do people effectively communicate with one another, particularly in a commercial environment? Well, that’s a complicated question! Let’s look at different scenarios in the commercial environment:
You may be called upon to represent a message to workers delivered from on high that could be seen as positive, negative, or neutral. It is not enough in the instance of a negative message to say ‘Don’t shoot the messenger.’ You must deliver the message in such a way that people don’t see you as the CEO’s lapdog whilst simultaneously giving the message its fair emphasis. Most people don’t want to be managed by people who aren’t their managers. Such a message (intended or otherwise) can be detrimental to your individual brand and highly unprofessional. Leading and influencing is one thing; managing without authority or buy-in is another.
You’ve held a meeting, collected opinions over time, been asked to take a survey or been put in a situation where you represent the general workforce to executive management. Don’t underestimate the complexity of this scenario, even for the simplest of discussion topics. Executive management want concise and useful information that is accurate for any given commercial subject. You’re responsible for representing the masses. You’ll need to ensure you fairly represent the message whilst remembering that it will reflect on your brand and standing. This balancing act isn’t easy and spending some time in advance to think, even get a second opinion, may aid the success of such a venture.
You’ve been sent on a mission to support a department in your organization, but this task turns out to require you to represent an important message to a different department. You’ll need to assess several factors here. Does this message align with the organization’s higher-level goals that you are aware of? Will you be supporting the department and the organization as a whole or simply be the bearer of bad news? Are you the right person to do this? It’s entirely possible, without any intention, to cause conflicts between departments if ideas are not accurately conveyed.
Factors Affecting Communication
Many factors affect communication in the workplace for professionals. These include:
- Talking too much – are you?
- Not speaking up enough – are you?
- Your stance – how do you hold yourself?
- Your personal brand – how do people see you professionally?
- Your vocabulary – is it accurate, appropriate, and understood?
- Your hand gestures and arm movements – are they appropriate?
- Your eye contact – is it appropriately sustained without going too far?
- Length of speech – are you dragging this on longer than required?
- Your tone – are you balancing polite, professional, and personable?
- Any cultural issues – are you considering those that may be relevant?
- The eye contact you get back – what are people saying with just their eyes?
- Your dress and professional appearance – is it professional and appropriate?
- The time of day – are people trying to get out the door on a Friday afternoon?
- Any external factors happening around you and on that day – any to consider?
- Timing and delivery around other factors – what else is happening in the world?
How Can You Improve?
- Work on it! Role play when you are on your own. If you have spare time in the car, practice your speech, tone, clarity, and delivery.
- Watch videos of the great speakers of history and emulate key points in their presentation and style. Great speakers of history include John F. Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher, and Martin Luther King.
- Ask people for their honest and frank feedback. It’s best to do this in a one-to-one setting. Tell them you want to improve and get their positive and negative feedback.
- Consider a coach. There are great professionals out there who can help with public speaking, communication, and professional soft skills development.
- Watch people in your social and professional circle who do it well. Observe and analyze leaders, sales professionals and marketing agents who deliver with poise, elegance, and clarity.
Executive Assistants can be placed in a variety of settings and circumstances in any given day. Different scenarios call for different approaches to communication. There are some important questions that you need to keep in the back of your mind whilst communicating with other people.
- Am I coming across in the wrong way?
- Am I failing to lead where I otherwise could?
- Do people think I’m managing them when it’s not my duty?
- Am I conveying this message in the right way to get buy-in?
- Am I a good communicator or am I simply deluding myself?