Workplace Communication: How to Avoid Screwing It Up
By Eileen McDargh
Human language separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. But too often, we respond to the wag of a dog’s tail instead of the message given by the CEO. There is a breakdown in workplace communication.
Here are four sure-fire ways to get a message across, remembered, and repeated.
Use Real Language Instead of Ad Copy
Ad copy might be punchy but it only seeks to invite the viewer or reader to seek more details. That is often not possible in our 24-7, get-it-down-now world. Martin Luther King’s speech would have vanished into history if he only said, “I have a dream”. Real language fleshes out both the intent and the possibilities the sender wants to convey.
It is not filled with puffery and pompous language but rather words that allow people to see what the person is saying. For example, King gave specific examples of what that dream would look like such as slave owner and former slave breaking bread together.
Workplace Communication Through Symbols Instead of Spread Sheets
Numbers, P&Ls, and statistics are fine but they are not remembered nor repeated. Instead, the use of symbols carries far greater impact. For example, one manager walked into a meeting and dumped a pile of manufacturing parts on the table. He said, “This is the crap that keeps breaking. How are we going to fix this?” You can imagine the look on the faces of his peers.
In the amazing story of Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition of 1914, when the ship was crushed by an expanding ice pack, Shackleton determined rescue might be possible with a sled march to the ocean. This could only happen if every nonessential item was discarded regardless of value or emotional attachment. Shackleton reached inside his parka and threw away gold sovereigns and a gold cigarette case. The symbolism was not lost on his crew.
Use Storytelling Instead of Telling
Facts tell and emotion sells. Stories capture our emotion more so than a straight recitation of facts.
I was hired to create a report for a biotech company. The purpose of the report was to attract potential employees. Instead of talking about benefits and employment practices (although that was put in as an addendum), I interviewed employees about what they saw was the value of their work. To hear someone relate what it felt like to meet the recipient of a heart valve or to listen to a parent talk about their child’s recovery because of a device delivered a powerful response.
Use Dialogue Instead of a Discussion
The word “dialogue” means “through words.” The word “discussion” has the same root as “percussion” which comes from the Latin: “to beat”. So let me ask you, which would you rather have: a dialogue or a discussion. Discussions are heavy and often imagined as one-ups-manship with a winner at the end. On the other hand, a dialogue is exploratory, seeking to understand various viewpoints. Dialogue is a free-form give and take. When a leader sits in dialogue, the Biblical precept comes to mind: “Seek first to understand rather than be understood.”
All of these forms of workplace communication take conscious practice. Unlike some so-called leaders we see today who shoot from the mouth and are perceived as screwing up their message, a true leader works diligently to craft clear and compelling communication.
It is all in the intentional practice and commitment to behave as a true leader that real communication is achieved.
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