Why Communication Fails
Mission Control, We Have a Problem…: Why Communication Is Failing, and What Leaders Can Do About It
“I sent my manager email messages, but she won’t answer them.”
“We can’t send an email and not copy everyone; we have to cover our bases.”
“We have meetings about our meetings!”
“Well, communication is part of the name of our company, but we are still horrible communicators.”
“Nobody knows what is going on around here.”
“I am just overwhelmed.”
“We are all addicted to our Blackberries, and we can’t have a one- hour meeting without people looking at them.”
“No one talks to people anymore.”
“I sent an email, so of course they all understand this issue.”
Every month, these are the comments I hear as I speak and train in companies around the country. Why are we all struggling so much to communicate effectively?
In theory, we should have better communication than ever before. It’s ironic that we now have the best communication technology we have ever had. We have meetings, email, faxes, voice mail, office phones, smartphones, social media, conference calls, archived conference calls, video conference calls, Internet, radio, Skype, and delivery services that can get a packet of information anywhere in the world overnight. Yet still, we are all frustrated with ineffective, time-consuming communication problems. Since we are all running so lean, we need to be more efficient, right?
So what the heck is going on here? What is the real issue? Why have we lost touch when we have more tools than ever to stay in touch? From a business standpoint, I think we each need to take a stand and reconnect with our peers, our team, and our organization. I am hereby appointing you the new CCO. Yep, you are the new Chief Communications Officer, and you are going to whip communication into shape in your organization. Here are steps you should take in the first 30 days of your new role:
I recently had a client tell me she was on a conference call for four hours. What a ridiculous waste of time! How can people be attentive for that long on the phone without a break?
Right now in organizations, communication tools are either underused, overused, or abused. It’s high time to establish some rules of engagement on how communication tools will be used in the workplace. Have a designated group agree on behavioral standards for email, phone calls, conference calls, meetings, etc. Let’s say, for example, everyone had to be as specific as possible in providing detail on an email message’s subject line. Or agree to pick up the phone and call after three back-and-forth email exchanges with the same person about the same issue. (You want us to talk?)
Putting standards in place for communication can massively improve the effectiveness of communication and save money in gained productivity.
Stop Using Email as a Default Communication Tool
The classic response when I broach this topic is, “I have to send an email for legal documentation and to cover my backside.” My response: “On everything? Really? What happened to trust?”
There is no doubt that email serves a purpose and can be expedient and useful. The problem: it is often a replacement for an important group meeting or a one-on-one conversation in person or by phone. Email communication is one way; discussion is two way.
One company told me their CEO set up a new rule: no email on Friday. They told me it has dramatically improved their communication. On Fridays, they actually have to talk to one another. What the CEO was doing brilliantly was smashing the default tool for one day.
Have Team Meetings Again
Many people tell me they used to have team meetings but stopped having them for a host of reasons. Meetings have a huge impact on team morale, dynamics, and connection. A well-organized, structured team meeting with an agenda and a time limit can save hours and dramatically enhance communication. Just like the old days.
Stop Allowing Distractions
In the world of cubes and open floor plans, an open-door policy seems hard to avoid since there are no doors. People can drop in and interrupt at any time, which leads to distractions that interfere with effective communication and productivity. Have guidelines as to how and when someone can barge into your workspace. Give people permission to delay or defer that person if they are in the middle of something.
People tell me they have to speak to someone who comes into their workspace, and they are “not allowed” to tell them they are in the midst of working on something. Huh?
Second, make it a rule that when people are talking face to face, they are not allowed to check their Blackberry or email. It is rude and shuts down effective communication. One client of mine insists that during a training program, team members must put their smartphones in bags with their names on them. They are only allowed to look at them on breaks. Brilliant.
So as CCO, you have your marching orders. Pop me an email, and let me know how it is going. On the other hand, just call me!