Virtually anyone who has worked in any kind of organization would agree that open, high-quality communication is vital to a successful workplace. Communication between supervisors and employees, between departments and between the company and its customers and suppliers is constant.
Poor communication skills can make every aspect of doing business more difficult.
Yet, people with exceptional communication skills are rare. Few companies pay enough attention to fostering those skills. The deleterious effects of poor communication are often palpable, and can include:
1. Increased employee turnover. A Watson Wyatt study found that companies that communicate most effectively are more than 50% more likely to report turnover levels below their industry’s average.
2. Increased absenteeism. Inadequate, inefficient and insensitive communication severely impacts employee motivation, which in turn drives the employee’s decision to come to work each day. One study showed that where employees feel fully informed, absence rates are below average.
3. Poor customer service. Poor communications with employees lead to frustrating communications with customers. Employees who lack guidance from management struggle to know how to satisfy customers, and lose their motivation to do so.
4. Ineffective change management. Fewer than half of change programs meet their objectives. Managers with strong communications are vital in being able to deal with employee resistance to needed changes.
5. Failed project delivery. Poor communication is cited, for example, as the main cause of failure for IT projects by 28 percent of respondents in a national survey conducted by a national association of IT professionals.
6. Increased injuries. Just as one example, the US Joint Commission for Hospital Accreditation reported the primary root cause of inadvertent patient harm was communication failure in over 70 percent of the time.
7. Higher litigation costs. Employees feeling stress from poor relationships at work is a key driver of company lawsuits. Establishing communication systems and processes for resolving conflict assists greatly in reducing the high cost of lawsuits.
8. Lower shareholder return. Losses related to poor communication practices have an impact on the actual and perceived value of companies.
What Is ‘Great’ Communication?
But what, exactly, does it mean to have exceptional communication skills?
One key is to pay attention to nonverbal communication. Even if we’re not conscious of it, we get more information from nonverbal cues than from words. When leaders match their nonverbal cues to their words, they are considered more trustworthy.
Adapting styles to suit the audience is also essential. Throughout the course of a day, a leader might have to switch between an authoritative style with employees and an inspiring style with stockholders.
Communication is virtually always an exchange. That means listening is as important as talking. Think dialogue, not monologue. The more personal and engaging the conversation is, the more effective it will be.
Keep an Open Mind
One aspect of that kind of communication is keeping an open mind, and paying attention to new and even contrary ideas. Be curious, not judgmental. That can mean keeping your ego in check and cultivating your sense of empathy.
Concision and clarity are better than ambiguity. Try to foster what Rudolf Flesch famously called “the art of plain talk.”
Communication training programs are available, and a good one can benefit any organizational leader, even one with decent communication skills.
Finally, it is essential for leaders to foster a sense of belonging and community. That leads to more open and fruitful communication – which in turn nurtures that very sense of community and belonging.