Why Effective Communication Isn't Good Enough

A very important topic for every organization is effective communication. 

One of the hallmarks of Diamond6 is our commitment to applied learning. We work very hard during our workshops to ensure that our participants think through the concepts, ideas, principles of leadership, and organizational theory that we’re discussing and how it applies to both themselves and their organization.

I firmly believe that adults learn differently than children. As everything they do, when adults encounter a new experience, concept, or idea, it has to pass through their experiential lens. Each of them has a career, for X number of years, and those experiences are a backdrop to integrating new ideas and new concepts. It’s the synergy of those two things, experiences and new ideas, that lead to a synergy of future efforts.

A week or so ago, I ran a workshop for a group of about 60 corporate executives and we spent a couple days looking at a particular case study. At the final discussion point we asked, “What did you learn?” I heard the same thing from several people.

“We need to communicate better.” 

It dawned on me that is a great idea, but it’s like saying “I’m in favor of motherhood, apple pie, and the girl next door”, because let’s face it, if you say I’m in favor of better communications… 

“Okay great! Let’s have more meetings! Let’s send more emails!”

When I presented that to the group, everybody said,

“No! No! No! We don’t want to do that!” 

So, when you say better communications and more effective communications, that’s not good enough. WHAT EXACTLY DO YOU MEAN?

Let me give you a couple ideas, a couple suggestions that I passed onto them to try to get at the nitty gritty of more effective communications.  

1.) Listen

Remember communications include listening and not just waiting patiently for your turn to speak. Abraham Lincoln used to say that God gave us two ears and one mouth and was actually trying to tell us something. 

When I say listen, really listen. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted. I find it very helpful to look at the person very directly in their eyes to focus my attention to what they are saying.  

2.) Be conscious of the physical setting and non-verbal communications

If you’re reprimanding or disciplining somebody, sit behind your desk and having them stand in front of the desk may be appropriate. But if you’re trying to talk to them about a problem, trying to seek their assistance, or trying to get them on board, moving out from behind your desk and sitting on a sofa or chair where there’s no obstruction between you and them is very, very important. 

Non-verbal communications- are you in fact paying attention? Are you being distracted by your cell phone or the phone ringing? All these things are critical that you are conscious of, to set an environment for effective communications.

3.) Involve the whole team

Be sure your communications broadly involve the whole team and you’re not talking to a tiny fraction of people from the organization. 

Back in the day when I was in the Army, we used to a concept that we used frequently, called ‘management by walking around’. That is the opportunity for a leader to meet with everybody in their organization over a period of time, on their setting, to get their ideas, and their input. How is it going? 

I worked with a Superintendent of a large school district who told me the one thing he tried to do was once every quarter or so, he had a meeting with all the bus drivers. He said that he could learn more about what was going on in his organization by talking to the bus drivers than probably any single group.  

4.) High-touch or High-tech

What do I mean by that? We are surrounded by technological devices: cell phones, computers, tablets, fax machines, etc. 

If I want to call a meeting that 100 people might attend, that’s a high-tech message I can send out by email and tell everybody where we are going to meet, what time we’re going to be there, and it can reach them very, very quickly.

What’s a high-touch conversation? Well telling someone they’ve been promoted or sadly, telling them they’ve been fired is a high-touch conversation. That one needs to be person to person. Eyeball to eyeball. It’s critical for that person to hear it in that way. It’s critical for the organization to know that you’re caring enough as a leader to have those communications in that way. That may not be possible, but you need to think through at least from the extreme of high-touch one-on-one discussions to the telephone, to a video teleconference, as I move back and down the cursor of more and more technology, where can I possibly effect this conversation which needs to some degree be a high-touch or a higher touch conversation. 

The bottom line is very simple. Every organization that I work with at one time or another says that “one thing we need to do is more effective communication”, but that’s not good enough. Leaders have to think through exactly what that means, how to involve the whole team, how to create environments that are best for communications, and lastly how and when to take advantage of technology versus physical presence.

We want to hear from YOU! What does effective communication mean to you? Share your comments below.