Recently I have been reading a lot about miscommunication and the negative impact it can have. Successful, communication is imperative to all companies to ensure the highest levels of quality and customer loyalty are achieved. However, many leaders are poor communicators and put the onus on their employees to get the messages they send out each day. When those employees don’t “get the message” they blame them for not understanding or not reading the memo. The same problems can occur with customers, too. A communicator’s reality is the receiver’s understanding of their message. The ingredients to a successful communication are basic, yet so misunderstood and misapplied.
Every communication starts with an individual trying to send a message to another individual or individuals. It is the duty of the receiver of a message to be attentive and listen. It is the duty of the sender of a message to make the message clear to the audience they are addressing and to make sure the audience is prepared to receive the message. These are very basic concepts, but if you do not readily think about them prior to and while you are communicating, then you are increasing the likelihood of failure. As a result, any fault for the poor communication lies at your feet, not the receiver’s. In fact, most poor communication lies at the feet of the communicator. Let’s analyze the communicator’s duties a little further.
The most important duty is to understand the audience. Different people absorb information in different ways. This is a simple reality, but is what can make effective communication so difficult. For example, some people like to get e-mails, read them thoroughly, and absorb the content. Others let e-mails accumulate in the in-box and then delete them in mass, perhaps reading the “Subject” line or briefing through the content of some of them. Yet others, even today, don’t use e-mail. Millennials prefer texts and don’t tend to listen to voice messages. Some in the audience will be technically inclined, yet many are not
On the flip side most people will never question whether they got the message correctly or not. Some may take the initiative to ask questions, but the vast majority will either assume they got the message being sent or simply ignore it if there is something they don’t understand. It is easiest to blame these type of people for not getting the message, yet I would argue the sender is typically at fault, especially if the message being sent is critical.
Let’s say your team has a critical date that must be met or you will lose a very large account and the income associated with it. During a meeting with your immediate team you let this be known and outline the critical nature of everyone doing their part to make the date and the importance of identifying any issues that may jeopardize performance. You look each individual in the eye and ask whether or not they understand and are on board. Good start! Your team is going to need to interact with several other groups within the company to effectively accomplish their goal, so you send out an e-mail to the entire company stating the importance of this effort and the critical nature it has to the business. You title the e-mail “Critical Project Please Read”. You ask that everyone support the requests of people on the team addressing the project with the utmost priority. Are you done communicating? Were you effective? Many leaders would answer “yes”, they got the message across to the leadership team clearly and then to the entire company. Next!
Unfortunately, you really relying on others to effectively communicate the critical nature of things to the people they interact with. You are hoping your communications were effective and that everyone got the message. Each of the immediate team members may be very effective in communicating the critical nature of the project to their teams. But what if they aren’t? Taking remedial action after you just lost a critical customer isn’t going to provide much solace. Did the lady in charge of some of the data your team may need read the e-mail? Did she understand that before she takes off for her nail appointment scheduled during her lunch break that she needs to get this data out first? If something is truly that critical, perhaps getting the entire company together in a single meeting to hear from the top how important this is and that they need to drop what they are doing to support the team when necessary is in order. That way you, as the leader, know every individual heard the message and it came from the top. Perhaps asking your immediate team to identify critical path tasks so you can make sure, personally, that all the people involved in those processes and tasks understand the situation? Making sure people get your message is YOUR duty as is ensuring effective communication from the top down.