Communication is never a one way street. During my 20+ years of helping people be more effective in their relationships with others, I've developed some strategies I'd like to pass on.
Tip #1: Don't use the term ‘communicating' when you really mean ‘telling'
Because people tend to use the word ‘communication' when what they really mean is 'telling', such terms have developed a ‘bad press'. People, especially employees, may even flinch when they are used. Be clear.
Tip #2: Make communication a circular process
When you read what I write, you may say I communicated my ideas to you. But communication is only happening if you are actively reflecting on my suggestions, thinking of the reality of your own relationships with others. I ‘told' my ideas to you. You may or may not understand what I mean, but you don't have a chance to ask for clarification, unless you make a move to contact me directly.
Tip #3: Grant others the chance to question, discuss and explore meanings
Unless I've given you the chance to let me know what you really need, I may be giving you information you cannot use, or understand.
Without mutual understanding of positions, nothing useful is communicated.
Instructions written by a Japanese person for English speaking buyers of their machine tools. ‘Always engage crutch (sic) before putting machine in gear.'
Tip #4: Look for signs you've been understood
The nod of the head, or just an ‘Mmm-hmm' suggest you're being listened to. Being asked a question back certainly means the person is concentrating on what you've said.
Tip #5: Give others time to take in clarifications
New or different ideas can take a moment to integrate into a pre-existing idea. Pause. Wait for their nod, or word, of understanding. Or their next question.
Don't hurry too much. A few minutes taken at the start of a new process may save hours, or even days, later.
Tip #6: Choose your words carefully
Jargon is the language of exclusion. Use terms common to those you're communicating with. What someone on the shop floor understands by a given word may well be very different to the meaning conveyed between e.g. medical specialists. So be aware of your audience.
Tip #7: Ask for feedback
The only way you can be certain of a mutual understanding is by receiving feedback. Keep in mind that others don't like to admit to ignorance. And just asking ‘Do you understand what I mean?' doesn't always fit the bill.
If your foreman or manager isn't sure what you mean but doesn't like to say so, then goes away and seeks clarification from someone else, it could cost your firm a lot of money. So request comments, or alternative suggestions. That way you'll know you're all on the ‘same page'.
Tip #8: Speak clearly
We all work in such a pressure filled environment it's too easy to speak quickly, or try to talk over ambient noise. ‘Don't switch off that power source' could be heard as ‘Switch off that power source'. Possible disaster! So open your mouth wide and really think about not only what you are saying, but how you are saying it.
Don't mumble, or turn away as you speak, or shout over distances and other noise.
And make sure words that are similar in sound to others are enunciated with special clarity. Sounds basic doesn't it? Yet this one expedient can make a world of difference.
Tip #9: Avoid staff memos whenever possible
Communicate with your staff or other prospective audiences directly whenever feasible.
Most of us have been brought up with and worked within a hierarchical structure. When you, as the CEO in your company, impart your wisdom and knowledge in the form of a staff memo - or even in an address to some outside the company, people are only reading, or listening. So you are without benefit of any feedback. How do you know whether you are being understood or received well or poorly? And that surely makes you less effective than you would otherwise be.
In a 2006 survey of hospital procedures in the US it was found that adverse drug events were reduced across an entire system of ten hospitals by 15 percentage points (a 65 percent reduction) in a six-month period when they instituted new ways of directing patient care, including addressing issues of professionals' communication with one another.
Tip #10: Institute joint decision making wherever possible
Where employees do not work in an environment they are happy with, the turnover can be as high as 10 to 15 percent p.a.
A similar survey to the one above found that greater involvement in joint decision making improved nurse satisfaction (and therefore staff retention) in one hospital to the tune of a saving of $M26US in one year.
It is the same in every business or institution everywhere.
Tip #11: Time is always money, and misunderstandings cost time
We all know that replacing and re-training staff costs, on average, the equivalent of that person's annual income.
Develop the practice of communicating in a circular manner, using a model of listening, hearing and feeding back through a continuous loop. While valuable staff move from position to position, seeking a workplace that gives reality to the notion of valuing their staff, millions of dollars will be thrown away.
Surprise your associates. Develop great rapport, great mutual understandings. Save money. All by working with these tips.