Understand the importance of effective communication in management.
Effective communication in management is vital, firstly to be able to understand what is required of you as a manager and to be able to explain through various methods what needs to be done, how, when, where and why it needs to be done to the team in order to deliver the business aims.
You need to be able to communicate to be able to give and receive feedback.
Communication is the way we share information, knowledge and feelings, this can take many forms, verbal, non-verbal and written.
All communication is made up of three key elements – words, tone and non-verbal. The words only make up 7% of the total of the communication, tone, accounts for 38% and the balance comes in non-verbal signals such as body language, expression, eye contact, posture.
Without communication how do we get our message across and ensure that it has been received, and understood?
The communication cycle by Shannon and Weaver suggests that there are six stages to the cycle and these are as follows
1. The Source – this is the person who has something to express to a recipient – the message
2. The Encoding – these are the three key elements used to construct the message, words, tone and body language or non-verbal signals
3. The Channel – this is the means by which the message is sent – verbally, email, letter, text, whatsapp, etc
4. The Decoding – this is how the recipient interprets the message
5. The Recipient – this is the person receiving the message
6. The Feedback – this is the response to the message, given by the recipient to the source
I would like to use a recent example of how communication both good and bad can impact upon a business and the relationships within it.
The heads of departments were recently tasked to improve inter departmental relationships by the CEO of the company who had been receiving negative feedback about working attitudes from employees regarding other employees during her directors’ surgery.
In this case the source of the message was the CEO. The channel used to deliver the message was verbal in a face to face meeting with the four department heads. The encoding was verbal, polite and professional but the body language and the tone used by the CEO to deliver the message left no doubt that she meant business that she wanted the attitude between the departments to improve. In fact, in decoding the message all four department heads – the recipients – interpreted the message in the same way – that we needed to take action to improve the relationships quickly. It felt a little bit like being in the headmistresses’ office back in school. The tone of delivery was stern where the CEO is usually quite lighthearted and friendly. If the message had been delivered in a different manner such as jokingly or in less formal circumstances via an email for example I don’t think we would have realised how important it was to the CEO that we get this done as a priority. This was an example of good communication by the CEO, she was specific in what she wanted to convey and used the correct channel and the correct encoding for the situation. The decoding was the same amongst all four recipients and the feedback we gave was that we understood what needed to be done.
This communication resulted in the recipients holding a meeting to discuss how to go about improving the employee inter departmental relationships. There were numerous suggestions made, there were four pages of minutes taken and the action points were emailed to the relevant people with the CEO copied in so that she could see what progress we were making.
The CEO then held a senior management meeting where the progress of the task was discussed. I asked my manager, who was in the meeting for some feedback on our proposals.
This was where the example of bad communication started.
He replied with a polite statement along the lines of “the management felt that you didn’t address the task that was given to you and maybe a senior manager should be present next time”. I was angry and upset. I felt like we had failed even though we had put a lot of thought and effort into the whole process and had, in my opinion, come up with some excellent suggestions.
I have a good relationship with my manager and so felt able to ask him to expand on where the senior managers felt we had fallen short of the task. He said the action points weren’t relevant to the task or to the commercial side of the business.
I then asked if he had read the agenda and the minutes and he said no – that he had been given a precis of the content by someone else in the meeting. I asked him to read the minutes in full and to give me a call the next day to discuss them.
I went home feeling thoroughly demotivated and unhappy at the feedback I had received. The next day he rang me to have a conversation regarding how I was feeling and I asked if he had read the minutes, he said no, that he hadn’t had chance, so I asked him to call me back after he had read them as I really needed him to understand why I was so upset and reading the minutes which were full of really good suggestions was the only way he was going to be able to understand why I was feeling so demoralised.
From here communications started to improve.
After around an hour or so he rang back and I asked him had he read the minutes and he said yes so I asked him what he thought and he said he thought we had done a fantastic job with our meeting and suggestions and that he was really pleased that we had indeed not only addressed the issue itself but had also come up with some other suggestions that were unrelated to inter departmental relationships but still very significant to the commercial aspects of the business.
He also said that the person who delivered the precis also hadn’t read the minutes but had read through the action plan. He provided an insight into how the senior managers decode the information they receive from the heads of departments and he explained that they just looked at the action plan as this is their preferred method of working. They don’t have time to look at the detail. The action plan itself was quite short compared to the list of suggestions within the minutes themselves.
It mainly contained actions that could be dealt with immediately without input or feedback from the senior team. I asked him to expand on the actions he felt were missing from the list but contained within the minutes and relevant to the task.
He sent me an email with a list attached which he had written on the bottom of the minutes, photographed and sent back to me.
I added these to the action plan and rang him to say that although I was pleased he had picked up on the more commercial suggestions within the minutes that he hadn’t added anything in regard to the suggestions made on inter departmental relationship building.
He said he had sent two separate emails – I hadn’t received the second one.
Once I received that and all our points had been communicated effectively we were both much happier and clearer about what had been achieved and what needed to be done going forward. Our relationship and use of different communication styles, both verbal, over the phone and also via photos attached to email, allowed us to be open and honest in both giving and receiving feedback.
If we had not had the communication skills to deal with the situation I would have been left feeling disgruntled and demotivated and he might have felt that he had a sulky manager who couldn’t take constructive criticism. I updated the action plan and resent it to all the department heads and my manager.
I try and use the method of communication that I feel works best for the situation, if a quick word will do the job then I get off my chair and go and talk face to face.
If it is something more complicated like implementing a new procedure or a system change then I will use a combination of verbal and written methods of communication such as a verbal explanation of what needs doing and maybe a step by step training guide for how to implement a system or follow a procedure. I also recognise the need to pick up on non-verbal signals. I have two members of the team who would never express anger in a verbal manner, but I can tell if they are annoyed as they tend to get flushed and avoid eye contact with me. They are both green personality types on the success insights model so it takes a lot for them to lose their tempers and now I can recognise the non-verbal signals and understand them better I can identify these signals to realise both when they are annoyed with something and also why they might be upset.
Be able to develop effective communication skills as a reflective manager
To be an effective communicator it is essential that you can get your message across and understood. It is necessary to be able to communicate in various different forms and at different levels.
1. Writing – a manager needs to be able to write clearly, concisely and professionally to communicate both inside and outside the organization. I know that I am an effective written communicator as people often come to me to check their letters and emails if they need help with something such as spelling or grammar. I have always had a love of language and have been an avid reader since I was a child. I have checked and corrected our public web content and quite often find when reading, that I pick up on errors that other people have missed in books that have been published and already proof read. I can tailor what I write to the level of communication of the intended recipient. A short chatty email to a colleague is sometimes all that is required rather than a long winded formal diatribe.
2. Speaking – I am an articulate and confident speaker although I have no real experience of public speaking it is not something that I would shy away from. Again, I feel it is necessary to tailor the content of the spoken word to the needs of the intended audience. I wouldn’t go telling rude jokes to open a talk in a primary school for instance. You need to get your message across to people in a way that is not going to alienate them from you at the start.
3. Listening – this is a way of gathering information from other people either directly through the words they are using or indirectly by reading into body language, posture, tone and the other persons’ world view. Understanding someone else’s vision of the world helps you to understand how they might react differently in decoding a message than you might do.
4. Reading – as stated earlier, effective communication entails being able to read the message you are receiving and to decode it in a manner that ensures the message has been understood correctly. I have stated earlier in this essay how I asked my manager to read the minutes from our meeting as I knew that the content hadn’t been properly understood. Reading between the lines is a skill necessary to being a good manager. I asked a direct, closed ,question to establish if he had read the communication, as reading between the lines from his reaction, I had a good idea that he hadn’t.
These are the criteria I use to measure myself and I feel that I am a good communicator in all respects which comes from a love of reading that I have always had. My team however may see things differently to me. As a feedback exercise I sent out a questionnaire to my team asking them to rate my communication skills in relation to the four criteria I have mentioned above. I asked them to mark my skills on a scale of 1-10 for each criteria to gather their opinions on my communication skills.