What’s impeding communication in your organization?
I recently met with clients to review their employee engagement scores. The senior vice president of HR responded to me with concern: “Wow, our communication scores are low. What’s going on here? We do actually talk to each other. I’m at least 75 percent sure of it.”
We then looked at the global norms—which were equally as low—and I said to him with a smile, “It appears that you guys aren’t alone.”
The puzzling part for all of us who work to ensure communication effectiveness is that most organizations have established ways for people to communicate—meetings, newsletters, email. We have cell phones. We text. We call. We IM.
So, what’s the problem?
There are the usual suspects:
- We are on information overload, inundated with communications from all angles. I am as guilty as anyone. Before writing this article, I left someone a text message, email and voicemail, all about the same topic, just to “make sure” the communication landed. I’m part of the problem. In an attempt communicate thoroughly, we might be communicating ourselves into numbness.
- Most of us are running a million miles an hour while juggling 13 bowling pins and often running right past people who are trying to reach us with myriad communications vehicles.
There also might be two subtler obstacles, which we can coach people to avoid:
1. We overuse corporate jargon, acronyms and other weird sayings.
It’s hard enough to be understood at work without introducing unnecessary hurdles-and corporate jargon and acronyms definitely fall into that category.
Talking about “leading paradigm shifts,” “baking people into processes,” or “drilling down” and “fleshing out straw dogs” could cause more confusion than we think, even though such weird terms fly around the corporate world.
Acronyms are equally challenging. In one recent meeting, an operations VP looked at the team presenting and asked: “What the heck is a WIIFM?” All the change management nerds knew it meant “What’s In It For Me?” and assumed he knew, as well. He didn’t.
Another client was working on a project formally called the MSP VMS ACA Initiative. I could see one stakeholder’s head cock as he muttered to himself: “The whaty-what-what initiative?”
2. The Golden Rule might not really be so golden.
We were all taught the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
What, though, if I love specifics and deliver a slew of details to someone who simply wants a quick overview?
What if all I care about is the bottom line and emphasize that to someone who cares primarily about a given project’s impact on people?
We’ve all someone making a great presentation but losing half the room because they didn’t think about the importance of how they are communicating.
The real rule of communication should be a more evolved Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they want or need done unto them.” That would require thinking outside our own frame of reference, but it would significantly improve how well any message resonates and is retained.
Few of us can slow the excessively fast momentum of the corporate world or streamline the ways we communicate, but we can coach our people to rectify those two stumbling blocks.
Doing so might bump up our communications scores on the next employee engagement survey.
A version of this article first appeared on TLNT.