Mike C

A Leadership Blog

Leadership Failure Part 2: Failure of Communication

Introduction

Communication is one of those things that we all have to do. The effectiveness of an organization rests and hinges on being able to communicate well with others. Failure to do so can create a lot of issues that would not have otherwise existed. There are several types of communication that most leaders should be aware of and have to utilize on a regular basis.

What is communication?

Communication is essentially the focus on providing information to other individuals. The information can be given through a variety of different mediums. Communication is important and is something that is essential to every single organization. To further explain what communication is, I have broken them down into the types of communication that exist.

Nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication is the communication that communicates via any other medium besides utilizing speech and language. This includes things such as:

  • Facial expressions
  • Body posture
  • Fidgeting
  • Looking around

This is just a very brief list of some of the non-verbal communication that is available. These can conflict with how and what someone is saying. If your body language is saying that you are nervous or uncomfortable, saying that you are fine comes off as insincere. Failure to rectify your body language and non-verbal communication to what you say can make it hard to connect with other individuals.

Being aware of your verbal and non-verbal communication can greatly help the sincerity of your requests. You have to watch how you posture yourself in certain situations as these can greatly hinder your chances to get promoted or even be able to effectively address a follower. People want things that make sense, and if your non-verbal communication does not match, then you are going to have a hard time moving forward.

Verbal communication

Verbal communication here is the spoke word. These can include some of the following:

  • Tone of voice
  • Words used
  • The formality of the language

Things like this can demonstrate emotion or reverence to a person. They can also demonstrate whether or not the person they are talking to is going to be respected through the course of the conversation. Verbal communication is the conversational speech aspect of relating to other individuals that you might encounter on a frequent basis.

The way you would talk to a superior at work should not be the same way you talk to a friend. Likewise, how you would talk when you are angry will be different than how you would talk when you are excited or happy about something. These are things that recipients of your communication are going to be paying attention to. After all, they use this as a way to determine how to respond to you.

Written communication

Written communication, in the context of this particular post, is that which is focused on communication via a physical written word (like a book). Communication here could be an intradepartmental memo to staff about an upcoming meeting. It could be an interoffice bill that a department has to pay to the accounting department.

In a business sense, this is important because it creates verifiable paper trails (which is important). Having these paper trails is important since it can crop up in legal hearings or in situations where others might be curious about a situation that might have cropped up (like a claim of sexual harassment). It is important to keep these records.

What makes written communication hard is that the visual and auditory clues are often stripped out. You can never tell how the other person feels. You can’t tell if they are happy or sad or mad when they have written the document. It is important for you to keep written communication brief and to the point. This can make it easier to prevent misunderstandings from arising as a result of sending the document.

Email communication

Email communication is a subset of written communication via a digital medium. Much like written communication, there isn’t much behind it that you can use to understand where a person is coming from. You have to practice brevity here as well since the extra stuff is not easily communicated. Emails here can be formal to informal depending on the individuals involved with the communication medium. You have to understand who you are talking with in order to tailor your message.

IM (Instant messaging) communication

IM is a popular way to communicate. These can include Skype, Discord, MSN Messenger, and a plethora of other programs that often get used. These tend to be more on the informal side of things and can sometimes be hard to understand if someone is frustrated or happy. Usually, the course of conversation here will be a context for someone to determine the mental and emotional state of the other people within the chat.

Why is communication important?

There are a lot of reasons why communication is important:

  • It provides essential information for completing client projects
  • Communication can enhance how people are able to work together
  • It provides essential information for changing processes.
  • Communication is important for providing clarification on some of the internal workings of an organization

These are just some of the basic reasons why communication is important. Failing to communicate makes it harder to carry out what you need to do. It makes it hard to establish trust and respect with others. Leaders that cannot establish trust and respect often don’t wind up being leaders for long.

Why do leaders need to know how to communicate?

There are several things about communication that leaders need to know. Each of them helps a leader understand the why behind communication and the essential nature that these have towards ensuring an organization’s success and staying power in the market. When a leader fails to capitalize on these and utilize these within their own sphere of influence, disaster can arise as a result of poor communication. I have broken these down into several parts that are easier to digest.

Ensures smooth transitions

First, having good communication skills makes it much easier to be able to have smooth transitions with others. Sometimes people leave or retire. Sometimes people get fired. Other times you are doing an onboarding process for new hires or transitioning someone from another department into yours or out of your department into another. Changes like this are frequent and are a fact of life with any organization.

Communicating makes it much easier and better to ease the stresses of the transitions that occur within these changes. It is important and essential that people continue to communicate as these can impact projects or tasks that are being left behind for those individuals staying within that department or organization. The better that communication is, the easier it will be for individuals to adjust to the changes going on.

Ensures projects can be carried out well

In many organizations, there are a lot of projects that are going on. These projects require that an organization has good communication in place. If an organization cannot communicate across departments, then this can create issues with trying to get a few of the essential things done that a business might need to get done (think a multipart project that needs the input of 2-10 different departments). Heck, even within a department, communication is essential for them to work on projects that they might have been tasked with.

Facilitates interdepartmental strength

Strong communication enhances relationships between departments. The larger the organization, the more essential it is for the people to communicate effectively with each other. The better that the departments can communicate, the more likely they are able to enhance a variety of tasks and make it easier for the organization to perform. When departments are able to communicate effectively, it becomes easier to improve processes and make it easier to see where the fluff is and separate it from the chaff. Simplifying processes is a major thing that leaders have to undertake in order to see the results that they want.

What happens when leadership fails to communicate?

There are a lot of things that can happen as a result of a leader failing to communicate. Let’s examine some of these:

  • Failing to get tasks done
  • Getting removed as a leader
  • Creating unnecessary tensions with the organization overall
  • Misunderstandings occur
  • Creates a culture of distrust and resentment

As you can see, none of these are any good. You want to seek to reduce these as much as possible (it is not entirely possible to remove 100% of these issues but you can minimize them).

How to improve communication

The very first thing to improve communication is to take a deep breath and chill. Seriously, you cannot force and stress communication as that creates a sense of insincerity in that communication. When you can relax and unwind, you are more likely to implement more effective strategies for communication. If you are stressed out and trying to rush things, then you are likely to create additional problems, which is not the result that you want to have.

The team that you inherit will adapt to your communication style. You have to understand your own communication style and the shortcomings that it might have. You have to work to overcome those since your team will align themselves to those shortcomings that you might have. You need communication to be effective-so learn your own style and don’t rush any sort of changes.

The next thing is to communicate that you value good communication to your team. When they understand that you desire them to communicate, then they are at least able to start working on being able to implement ways to increase ways that they can communicate. For example, they might find an IM program that would be great for the team to use. They might find a way to communicate things more effectively with each other.

Part of this process is to encourage your staff and followers to get information from each other. Make it where they have to learn to communicate with each other before getting you involved. This is important for helping people to move into getting more done. This can also make it better for your staff to also not become tattletales on other staff when they can resolve issues on their own.

Third, providing appropriate training. You can do an anonymous survey to figure out where the communication black holes exist. You will have a much better understanding of the direction that you have to go and what training classes you can provide to your staff. Encourage and facilitate these individuals to participate in these classes since they are likely to receive the benefits from the training. Training will not always fix the problems but can help to create appropriate strategies for individuals that feel like they are struggling with being able to communicate.

Work on fixing those other black holes. If they are technology-related, find appropriate tools that you can use. If it the black holes pertain to a staff member, document it so you can address it in the appropriate way. Things like this will help your department to get more connected with each other. By fixing these problem areas, you are hopefully making it easier to communicate and make it easier for your staff to carry out their job duties. The more you fix, the better. Keep in mind, it wouldn’t always be feasible to fix some of these issues that develop.

What if I inherit a department or organization that does not have good communication channels in place?

Sometimes a leader inherits a department that does not have good communication channels in place. Sometimes they have to fix and implement changes to improve these channels. Things like this happen more often than they should and need to be fixed accordingly. Changing and growing a department like this takes a long time. People get ingrained in the ways that they do things.

You have to start by encouraging and developing better communication skills among your staff. Encourage them to talk and get to know each other accordingly. Make it an expectation that you want them communicating and that you will be documenting which individuals are not. You don’t want to force it but it is important that you make it clear that you want your staff to talk to each other.

Make everything actionable. The more actionable that it becomes, the more you can hold your staff accountable. Your staff needs to be held accountable in order to stay committed to the task of changing. In addition, when something is actionable, it is conducive to be done that way.

Facilitate the change yourself. You cannot force change to happen or occur. Forcing things to happen only contributes to bitterness and resentment with your staff. But you can facilitate the change of communication yourself. You can gently encourage others to be able to take steps towards improving their communication as well. It is all about positively rewarding your staff and also being a great support for them as they start to open up.

Remove the chaff when needed. There are people on staff that simply will not communicate at all. In leadership, this can be called a silo. No one works or should work in a silo. You have to work on removing those silos and barriers to communication. If you have made a reasonable effort in helping a person to open up to communication, then you need to work towards removing those individuals from staff. It’s not malicious when you have accomodated an employee or a staff member and they have not worked towards communicating more.

Conclusion

Communication is important for anyone and everyone. Leaders are the ones that have to facilitate further communication between their staff. When a leader cannot communicate or facilitate communication, everyone suffers. And they suffer in the absolute worst way imaginable.