Communication is key in turning any expectation, such as performance by an employee, quality goals by a department, or delivery time to a customer, into reality. Communication is both organizational (one to many, or many to many) and interpersonal (one-to-one). In either case, it must be active, and usually can be improved.
Spence conducted a poll of 600 senior managers and nearly 8,000 employees. The managers ranked themselves in the 90th percentile for clearly communicating the company vision, giving clear direction, and so forth.
The employees ranked the managers between the 30th and 40th percentile. That gap is common, but it can be closed; businesses that have a strong communication culture do so by cultivating honesty, empathy, courage, safety, intellectual rigor, and transparency.
Empathy is simply the respect that employees ask of their leaders; "Shoot straight with people, but do not shoot them between the eyes," advises Spence.
Courage is a willingness to face the most difficult and uncomfortable topics, such as layoffs or a wrong-headed decision by management. In a safe environment , employees understand that the truth will not hurt them, and that they may speak the truth without being (as one woman described it to the author) "vaporized."
Intellectual rigor is the quality of aggressively looking beyond the status quo, and transparency is sharing as much information as possible (and within reason) with key stakeholders.
In a real-world case, the author consulted at a manufacturing company at which the CEO unveiled a sales commission package which left no one (including the sales people) happy. Rather than foist it upon employees, he empowered the employees to write a plan that they thought was fair; he also promised to enact their plan without change.
That CEO listened to employees, acknowledged fault, shared sensitive financial information, and empowered the employees to exercise their intellects. The final plan, written by an interdepartmental team, shared the benefits across the organization, and the entire organization was satisfied.
That CEO demonstrated the concept of expert questioning . President Jack Malcolm of the Falcon Performance Group, an executive training firm, believes that expert questioningmakesa communicator more conducive and fosters better relationships.
"People like to talk about themselves, and they appreciate others who let them do so," Malcolm advises. Similarly, intelligent people like problem solving; expert questioning (asking them what they see as a problem, what they see as a solution) helps them to arrive at conventions in which they are wholly invested. This is known as "Socratic learning," after the teaching style of the Greek philosopher Socrates, who asked more than he lectured.
The CEO in the example above also listened, which won over his employees. Listening comes in four levels, from completely ignoring another person to deep listening – the kind typical employed between family and loved ones.
In between these two extremes is listening while distracted (checking e-mail messages or otherwise multitasking) and focused listening, which is being invested in the logic, information, and emotions behind the conversation. Focused listening is the ideal in business communication; speakers are heard, validated, and valued and listeners show they are focused on the conversation by repeating the key concepts.
Focused listeners are also empathetic and in touch with the speaker's emotions. Emotions seem out of place in business communication, but someone who uses the approach of complete logic is liable to frustrate and alienate coworkers; those coworkers do not feel hear-they feel abandoned with facts and figures.
Listening is particularly vital in dealing with interpersonal conflict, either among employees, or between a manager and a dissatisfied employee. Skilled interpersonal communicators will not begin a conflict with a directive; they will attempt first to resolve the conflict in a way that leaves everyone feeling fulfilled and heard.
These communicators will first listen with empathy, asking something like, "Will you please tell me your side of the story? I promise not to interrupt." They will follow up with non-accusatory "I" statements, saying, "I feel unheard," rather than, "You never listen."
They will attempt to negotiate a common ground barring that, they will attempt positive redirection, asking sincerely for cooperation. Only as a last resort will they use the no-alternative, "my-way-or-the-highway" response, "I recorded, we can not come to a resolution, and this is what you're going to do. "
The above describes an evolution of responses, from the most cooperative to the most firm, but the nature of an emotional response is that that does not evolve, it erupts. The author believes that those who remain cool in a volatile situation are likely that cool through practice. In between a negative stimulus and a response is a gap in which a person chooses how to respond. That gap may be less than a second, or it may be days. The choice of response is active, and it may be practiced and perfected.