The danger of Ineffective Communication
A colleague (madam) sent me a document which I reviewed, tracking changes. I sent the document back asking that madam review document to see changes I made, accept changes, stop tracking and send back.
Madam reported to our Line Manager, complaining on how nothing she does is ever good enough. On further probing, she cited the last mail I sent and said she had researched the meaning of ‘accept changes and stop tracking’ and it means she isn’t good enough.
After moving past the horror of what search terms could produce such results, our Line Manager had a serious conversation with madam; firstly, she sent out an unformatted document filled with errors, and is now crying foul after some review has been done for her and all she needs do is accept changes and stop tracking. It was clear there were some performance deficiencies such that madam’s feedback couldn’t even be clearly interpreted. Madam was advised to work on self-development which will aid career progression.
The teachable moment for me was that clearly I hadn’t communicated. Yes, there’s the skill deficiency issue, however, I also fell afoul of the biggest communication problem- which is the assumption that communication has taken place – George Bernard Shaw. I assumed I had passed a message, but I had not. In discussing this, I realized this is a very common communication problem.
Often, we find ourselves either speaking over the top of people’s heads with them trying to catch-up or on the flip side having to over-explain. It apparently doesn’t come natural to be able to explain in the right language and right terms such that there’s no question as to the meaning of the message. People and organisations that excel skill have had to hone the skill. However, it is an important skill nonetheless, as a lot rises and falls on communication- or a lack of it.
Due to my own recent mishap, I had to refresh my communication skills and here are a few pointers to aid official communication:
- Always be courteous but concise
Always be your best self; be polite and politically correct. Even with colleagues whom you are familiar with, be polite and with colleagues whom there might be some friction between you- be even more polite.
Eliminate endearments, keep familiarity to the minimum. Eliminate anything that can be misconstrued. Go straight to the point, don’t dither. Always assume the receiver is receiving the message- regardless of the means- in the midst of a very busy work day. Therefore, be brief and concise.
Even when emotions are running high and/or you don’t
feel like it, be polite.
Learn the art of politely telling people off
As with everything, planning is important. With official communication, you will need to plan what you want to say; to ensure it’s communicating the right message and it answers most questions that could arise. Planning official communication will ensure you do not have avoidable mistakes, faux pas, or that you aren’t caught unawares. We all have heard the saying ‘whatever you say will be used against you’, we are also familiar with the caveat when we call helpdesk lines that the call is being monitored for ‘training’ purposes. Always have these two statements at the back of your mind when communicating officially. Don’t wing it. No matter how good an orator you might be, Do NoT Wing IT! Think before you speak.
- Review for content, context, errors and language
Probably the most important and tiring job we do is revision, its common place to see a document having different editions until the final edition (well, final for the time being). This happens in order to ensure that we get the content right such that it’s relevant to the targeted audience at and that time. Imagine sending out a beautifully crafted holiday email after the holiday!
Content and context are important because therein lies the meat of the message. Language of delivery is also important- this has to do with both language and lingo. If the message is in English but the audience only speaks Swahili, you will need to translate. If you are speaking legalese terms to a room of Pharmacists; you will need to break down certain terms. Same way a sentence might suffice for a PhD holder, but you may need a paragraph of more sentences to explain to O’level holders.
Ensure your message has the right content and situate it within the right context.
- Put yourself in the audience’s shoes
Sometimes, a lot of times, you need to put yourself in your audience’s shoes and pull off yours. Reason is- you the originator of the message probably have some background such that with just a few choice words you would understand the message, majority of your audience might not be at the same level of comprehension. So, you need to tailor the message such that the audience will understand and it conveys the intended message.
- Always ask for feedback
Feedback is the food of champions. For every official communication, where its most likely that not all of the recipients will understand the message, you need to always provide room for questions, feedback, or in a one-on-one scenario you could always ask the other party to explain what has been communicated in his/her own words. What is important is that with each mode of communication ALWAYS ask for feedback. Never assume the message has been lucid enough; never assume communication has taken place. Always confirm.
With official communication- verbal or written, always assume Big Brother is watching, always assume someone is listening, blind-copied or the email will be forwarded or someone is recording the conversation and if you will need to explain it; Do NoT Say IT! Do Not Write IT!