Communication is at the root of organisational life. Employees need to know what they have to do and when, and how they should behave. On top of that, employers want their staff to feel loyal to the organisation, to support team members, and to feel that they have a stake in the success of the business. When staff don't feel like that, they become demotivated and unproductive, and less likely to listen to what their managers have to say. This type of communication breakdown is difficult to remedy, so it is better to recognise and avoid the pitfalls in the first place.
Focus on information
Many companies think of communication as giving information. Staff can be treated to complicated presentations about the company's financial performance and given a large folder full of information about rules and regulations. Although these companies may not be hiding anything from their staff, they also aren't considering the feelings of the people who are receiving this information. They might be confused, bored, or overwhelmed, and feel that their employers are insensitive.
You might think that it is impossible to communicate too much -- but it's not. Employees who receive company-wide emails each day, or who are constantly being updated on the achievements of other departments, are apt to tune out and start ignoring all messages, even those that are potentially important to them. They even start daydreaming through meetings with their own colleagues if there are too many of them. To avoid this type of communication breakdown, employers should ask their staff how often they want to be communicated with, and make sure that they put formal processes in place.
Most communication problems between employers and employees can be solved by listening to the employees. Top-down communication is necessary to keep a business running -- employees have to know where the company is heading. However, bottom-up communication is vital too. Senior managers do not know instinctively when there are problems in the business, or what customers are saying to front line staff, so they need to find processes that will allow staff to communicate upwards. Without this sort of communication, senior managers operate in a vacuum which can be disastrous for the business as a whole.
A major cause of communication breakdown is when people are talking in different languages. Where the languages are worlds apart, such as French and Japanese, the problems are so obvious they are easy to solve. But it is more difficult when people are talking ostensibly the same language. Perhaps the finance director attempts to communicate using overly technical, jargon-ridden language. Or perhaps people in the American office misunderstand the British habit of ironic understatement. Unless these problems are recognised, and some effort is made at translation, communication can break down irreparably.
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