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Communication is key

Posted: 01 Apr 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:career? management? employee? turnover? communication?

One of the better lines from the world of popular movies was said in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. As a number of short-fused citizens exchanged a hail of bullets, one of the less compromising commented, "What we have here is a failure to communicate!" Timely information and discussion can indeed moderate many problems, and there is much that can be said and done before drawing a gun.

Why do countries go to war? Or employees turn over or fail to produce? Often, the answer is that no one is communicating. Communication doesn't simply mean delivering a message. Hearing what is said, digesting and discussing are equal elements in communication.

The ability to prioritize, one of the key attributes in any manager's portfolio of assets, often works in conflict with the implementation of soft managerial skills such as coaching, performance assessment and, of course, communicating. If an overworked and hard-pressed manager is to continually make choices between client service and employee nurturing, staff considerations inevitably take second or third place. In the longer term, however, this approach will be self-defeating. Without well-prepared and well-informed employees in place, client service will automatically deteriorate, perhaps not in failing to respond quickly to a customer's inquiry, but in an imperceptible decline that, over time, will predetermine poor service.

Recent surveys in a number of highly developed countries indicate that more than half of managers in the workplace have received no training in communication. They also reveal that although three-quarters of managers believe "listening" to be the most important managerial skill, only about one-third had been trained to listen. In addition, four-fifths reported communications breakdown with staff. That corporate communications are frequently in a bad state goes without saying.

So what is communication? What exactly do we have to do? I once worked for a manager--in the days before e-mail--who thought he'd found the solution. Each day he assembled a thick file of every incoming and outgoing letter, fax and telex and then circulated it among a large group of middle managers. For a time, we each spent a third of our day reading through the file, but although gathering a few useful pointers on what was going on in the company, we were essentially wasting a large part of our time. In fact, you could say that middle management was, to a certain extent, paralyzed by this flawed attempt to "communicate." This was clearly not the answer.

The interchange of information can be conducted in a formal environment, such as group planning sessions, performance appraisals or staff meetings. But the real stuff of successful communication is in the daily exchange between a manager and his staff. The "MBA" program, or Management By walking About, is one of the best methods of maintaining healthy contacts and information flow. If handled well, it can provide the how, why, when and where that give form and place to everything in the work environment.

Good managers and good communicators may sometimes be born, but they can be improved through a conscientious attempt to learn and apply a few basic skills. Every person who acts in a supervisory capacity has the responsibility to ensure that those skills are acquired and adequately used.

- Philip Chatting

Global Sources

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