Having A Nervous Breakdown: Drive Me Insane
Apart from being the chorus of the Led Zeppelin song, communication problems are real and significantly impact running any business. Any company worth its salt will have systems in place to reduce the breakdowns in communication. These are all well and good, but they require the users to adhere to specific policies or guidelines.
Most of my articles are inspired by experience, often very recent. This last week, as is often the case, unnecessary misunderstandings caused some small friction. When all it would have taken is for a proper handover by a colleague before his vacation, let’s explore what can and will happen regularly and how we can reduce the impact when things go wrong, which they always will.
Disclosure. I use Generative AI tools to help me when writing. From outline suggestions to topics or subtleties, I had yet to think of.
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The Song Remains The Same: The Importance of Effective Communication
Why is clear and efficient communication more critical within your company than you think? Nobody needs to be told that time means money, but unclear communications always mean losing time and then, of course, money. The effect of even the most minor, inconsequential misunderstanding between colleagues may snowball, causing increasing delays further down the line.
Consistently good communication practices reduce workplace stress as we know we can rely on shared data or information. With deadlines ever looming in today’s business world, we must be able to trust that what we are being told is accurate.
We must always be sure that everybody on the team is on the same page. If there are any misunderstandings, at best, they will lead to wasted effort. But at worst, the knock effects may not be felt for several days, weeks, or months. Any delays in identifying an issue will have more severe consequences the longer the misunderstanding goes undiscovered.
Clear and concise language is a key element in effective communication. Eliminating language complexity and keeping it super simple from the get-go reduces the possibility of misinterpretation.
A typical example would be a specification of requirements intended for all project stakeholders. The sponsor will sign off using this document, but the project team will require a more detailed set of documents. Keeping the language as simple as possible reduces the chances of any misunderstandings at this critical stage.
Heartbreaker: Identifying Communication Breakdowns
What are some common causes of communication failures? Well, there are many, but here are a few of the most common:
- Dissatisfaction or Disinterest With One’s Job.
- Inability to Listen to Others.
- Lack of Transparency and Trust.
- Different Communication Styles.
- Conflicts in the Workplace.
Number one is potentially one of the potential serious causes of communication problems. Fortunately, it’s also one of the easiest to spot and remedy before it can become a problem. If managers don’t stick their heads in the sand, even a reasonable manager must tackle this before it escalates into something more impactful.
The second cause is, perhaps, a far too common problem. People, being people, tend to anticipate and interpret what they are being told before the teller has completed a sentence. We often assume that we understand already what we are being told. Have you ever heard of the definition of the word ‘assume’? Assume makes an ASS of U and ME.
A lack of transparency and trust is the third common cause. By far, the most serious issue on the list especially the breakdown in trust. If this is you or your organisation, it’s best to stop reading this article about communication failures and address this issue first. Good communication has already left the building if you can’t trust your colleagues.
The fourth item on the list, different communication styles, is tightly related to the second item. People express themselves differently, but if you don’t listen actively, the chances of misunderstanding each other go through the roof.
The last item should never have escalated to any point where the conflicting parties couldn’t talk to each other civilly. Workplace conflicts are stupid and a waste of energy; we don’t have to like our colleagues to be able to work professionally together.
Dazed And Confused: Impact on Organisations
We must have systems for enhancing communications between individuals, departments, and organisations. These systems are primarily based on software applications nowadays, from custom ERP applications to simple email. No matter which software we use, we always need user guidelines.
For example, email fatigue is as much a real problem today as it has been for years. We introduce rules to reduce the sheer volume of emails in our inboxes. For example, never select Reply All unless we are sure all recipients must participate in the discussion. But there will always be those who choose Reply All by default, whether consciously aware or not. Many of the recipients will automatically delete the email. I’m sure many of you have accidentally deleted an important email.
Bespoke software can and is often abused by people as it’s human nature to look for or invent shortcuts. For example, in an ERP system, it will be ignored unless a field is mandatory, though it may be necessary for the organisation. When it is compulsory, there’s nothing to stop individuals from entering a quick, meaningless character or two. This again circumvents the meaning, leading to a similar shortfall in essential data.
People are inventive and ultimately want to get on with their work. If they can find a shortcut that allows them to focus on their own ‘stuff’, they’ll take it. So what can we do to prevent these situations?
What Is And What Should Never Be: Strategies for Improvement
So, what can we do to help to improve the quality of our communications?
We need to keep the guidelines as simple as possible; the fewer rules employees are required to observe, the less likely they are to make a mistake or ignore them. Complexity breeds failures and omissions, so we must always attempt to Keep It Super Simple (the polite version).
Be respectful with email; we all do it, don’t we? We’re busy when an email pings into our inbox that requires our quick response; hit Reply All and answer the mail. Never once do we even glance at the enormous CC list that has built up on a long-running email thread. Likely, for most recipients, it’s just another form of SPAM email, probably quickly deleted and forgotten. Think, just for a minute, who needs to know what I have to say?
Active listening is more challenging than it sounds; too many of us assume to know what the speaker will say already, and then we effectively switch off. To remedy this bad habit, we must all learn to listen actively.
- Be attentive. Listen carefully, and don’t interrupt unnecessarily.
- Ask open-ended questions.
- Ask probing questions.
- Request clarifications as needed.
Active listening can go a long way to resolving communication problems, conflicts, and personality clashes.
Bring It On Home
Why Led Zeppelin-inspired section headers this week? , I wanted to write about communication and the consequences of them breaking down. The song “Communication Breakdown” popped into my head, so I thought, why not have a bit of fun?
I have no idea how many times each week I see or have been on the receiving end of friction caused by poor communication. The sad thing is that all it takes is mindfulness and a determination to do your job as professionally as possible.
Anyway, mini-rant over. I wish you all a successful and communicative week ahead. And never forget; don’t let the bastards grind you down. 😎
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I apologise to my readers for some of the spellings you may feel are incorrect. I was born and brought up in the United Kingdom, and this is the spelling I am comfortable with (Grammarly is happy with it anyway).