Managers face a constant struggle to improve communication within their work teams. Besides being able to accurately articulate any technical aspects about the work (every industry has its key phrases, terms, and buzz words), business leaders have to be ever-mindful of some very basic principles of effective communication.
We usually think about communication as a two part/two person transaction. You speak, I speak, we hear and we act. This is the way most adults perceive the process of communication. When we need to talk to our teams, we usually just think about crafting a message as though it is being addressed to one person.
I submit to you that there are really four stages of communication. Being an effective communicator requires a laser focus to ensure the parts are working to their maximum potential.
The four stages are:
1. What You Mean to Say – Your communication as a manager must first be grounded in the thoughts you develop as facts and circumstances come together. When you process all of the information at hand, SOME kind of thought process should lead you to a decision. A message to the team begins with the thoughts that you will have. Sometimes the thoughts are significant and profound. At other times they are pretty simple. Your thoughts become the root of your message.
Be sure your mental checklist is functioning clearly before you start talking to the team. Be clear about what you mean to say.
2. What You Actually Say – You have your thought, but then words must be applied to express that thought. Numbers 1 and 2 are very closely tied together but are just enough different to cause a potential problem.
Let’s face it, most of us have had a moment where an idea pops in our head, but we cannot find the perfect words to explain the essence of that idea. Our words fail us. This stage is especially troublesome when you have to communicate ‘on the fly’, meaning impromptu communication.
When you have a chance to write a speech, you get more time to process your thoughts and formulate the words. Great speech writers make careers doing this for politicians and celebrities. However, managers on the front line seldom have that luxury. As events unfold at work, you are required to respond quickly. Your words can easily become muddled.
If words fail you, it is possible you will be sending a message that is different from your original intent. Also, words that have double meanings can confuse the message. Tone and positioning of words can impact the meaning. There are numerous ways that the words you DO choose to express may send a message different from what you intend.
3. What the Listener Hears – When we think of translating a message from one language to another, we often hear about ‘something getting lost in translation’. Unfortunately, that can happen with communication within the same language. You can take a perfectly structured thought (Item #1) that is represented well by the words you choose (Item #2), but still have trouble getting your message across.
Clearly, the responsibility to correctly hear a message falls on your listener. Any form of translation that changes the message corrupts it. The risk at this stage is that word meanings can vary from person to person. As the manager, if you make a statement “I am concerned about this _______”, some may hear the message as saying “I am mad, but just not telling you”.
4. What the Listener Now Feels – Whether the translation being heard is correct or not, there is still one last hurdle to overcome. How does your message make the listener feel? The content of what you meant versus the listener’s conclusion after processing your words may spawn a surprising reaction.
For some, there are trigger words that spark bad feelings. For others, there are words that inspire and motivate. The listener’s initial feeling about the message will have a direct impact on the success of the communication. If the effort ends poorly, the manager must essentially start over with this entire 4 stage process.
So, we have discussed the four stages of communication. What is a manager to do?
In situations where people have solid, effective relationships, there is a history that can smooth any of the rough edges stemming from a breakdown of any of these four parts. When people have worked together for some time, they can (and should) develop a sense of understanding that helps to bridge the communication gap. Key words and phrases take on meanings of their own and become the go-to way to express a topic.
Yet, when someone new joins the team, communication bridges are not yet available, so the manager’s message needs to stick to the basics until the history can be accumulated. The latter is also true when new topics are introduced to the team.
As the Manager, it is your responsibility to watch for breaks in all four of these stages. Better communication can be achieved by effectively using all elements. Find ways to let your team know that for their benefit you want to be a good communicator. Let them provide feedback, too. Iron out phrases and words that miss the mark or generate the wrong conclusions.
If you can broaden your view of the communication process, you can become a more effective manager.
In what ways have you experienced communication problems with your work team?
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