All companies have similar outlooks: they have goals they’re trying to achieve and they attempt to hold fast to their vision and culture. In so doing, they communicate this to their leadership teams and the employees.
However, communications easily become skewed or “muddied” despite continual communication.
There are many terms and verbiage used by organizations, the media, etc., based on the assumption everyone you employ and converse with understands the terms as you do. Take for instance, “leverage.” Merriam-Webster defines the word “leverage” (noun) as “power and effectiveness; the use of credit to enhance one’s speculative capacity.” Or (verb) “to enhance as if by supplying with financial leverage; to use for gain: exploit.”
Yet in business, this word is often used in varying degrees of speculative understanding.
Why is comprehension important?
When we communicate with our employees and throughout the organization, our speech, our instructions, and everything we say is dependent on understanding. People who understand are likely to have clear direction and confidence as they move forward in the company, and with fulfilling their tasks and making decisions.
But as a leader, do you know for certain that the words you’re using to communicate to others are clear to them? Do you have a specific understanding in mind and know that others share your comprehension? Or could there be room for interpretation? When your supervisors and managers use what seem to be common business terms, do you nod in agreement, even though you aren’t clear about what they mean?
As children, the fear of asking questions was not fully developed. “Why is the sky blue?” “Where do babies come from?” “How old are you?” Children learn as they grow and the way they learn is by asking questions, among other things.
Yet as adults, there is the fear that if we ask questions to grasp what is being expressed, we will be viewed as lacking knowledge (which, we do) or that we’re not fit for the job. Often that misconception we place on ourselves is ultimately what creates doubts in others when we act without having a clear picture of what we are doing or why.
When employees do not understand the “vision” of the company, how and why they’re held “accountable” for particular actions, and why they may not fit in with the “culture” of the organization, their view of personal value wanes. Employees do not feel confident about a company that expects them to act without explaining what they are doing and why they are doing it. Morale is low, retention is low, and exasperation is high.
Employees do not feel confident about a company that expects them to act without explaining what they are doing and why they are doing it.
How to clear the waters of communication
1. Give clear definitions
First, make sure definitions are clear. If you, as the company president, talk about the “vision” of the company, define what that vision is, give examples of how it can be achieved, and distinctly express how employees can support that vision.
Do not assume when you use the word “vision” that your executives and employees will understand your meaning. Do not assume when your executives and managers nod that they grasp your intent.
2. Ask for feedback
Invite your managers and employees to give feedback. Listen carefully to their responses because that will help you understand if they comprehend what is being discussed. Share your own path to understanding and how you came to the conclusion you realized, if that will help. Ask non-embarrassing questions to make sure you are clear on how each person perceives your explanation and concept, and how each is formalizing communications.
3. Avoid jargon
“Leverage,” “utilize,” “accountability,” “culture,” are just a few of the many terms businesses throw around. Again, these are words that have various meanings to different people. And they are also used as fillers for communication messages, both written and spoken.
Instead, give the meaning behind these terms. Explain the “how” rather than state the “what.”
For example, it is easy – and often lazy – to say: “this is part of our culture.” How is something part of your culture? How does your culture have meaning for your employees? How do they fit into this image? How did your organization arrive at its current culture? How does the company’s goals and decisions work with the culture? Precisely define what your culture is, then weave in the answers to the above questions.
Be specific when expressing messages. Do not be afraid to use smaller, more common words if it will help everyone grasp your meaning.
4. Eliminate multiple hands
The challenge with written corporate communications is that they often have to pass through a number of channels for approval. What this creates is a finalized message that distinctly differs from the original. The message is unclear and steers away from the intended point.
Each person that handles the message adds or deletes words and phrases, which not only skews the message, but affects sentence structure. It no longer reads as an understandable message but rather, as a legal document that only the legal department can comprehend.
Instead, work only with one person from each department that is necessary to collaborate with. Work as a team rather than individually. Use the above-mentioned points to make your communications clear and understandable. Ask an employee that was not involved initially in the process to review it and point out any holes and misunderstandings before you finalize it.
5. Give your employees credit
If you want to realize your goals, the people on your team – your employees – need to be your advocates and cheerleaders. Give them clarity. Be specific with them about what’s in your head.
Your employees are smart, which is why you hired them. Avoid frustrating them with meaningless, jargon-filled messages. Instead, give them credit by entrusting them with knowledge and working with them as members of a large team.
For further information, read the article: “When quality internal communications suffer.”
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