The fact that managers do a lot of communicating doesn’t mean they’re necessarily good at it—that is, that they are efficient or effective. You are an efficient communicator when you can transmit your message accurately in the least time. You are an effective communicator when your intended message is accurately understood by the other person. Thus, you may well be efficient in sending a group of people a reprimand by e-mail. But it may not be effective if it makes them angry so that they can’t absorb its meaning.
From this, you can see why it’s important to have an understanding of the communication process.
Sender → Message → Receiver
Encoding is translating a message into understandable symbols or language.
Decoding is interpreting and trying to make sense of the message. Thus, the communication process is now
Sender [Encoding] → Message → [Decoding] Receiver
Sender [Encoding] → Message [Medium] Message → [Decoding] Receiver
Noise also occurs in nonverbal communication (discussed later in this chapter), as when our physical movements send a message that is different from the one we are speaking, or in cross-cultural communication, as when we make assumptions about other people’s messages based on our own culture instead of theirs.
Face-to-face communication, also the most personal form of communication, is the richest. It allows the receiver of the message to observe multiple cues, such as body language and tone of voice. It allows the sender to get immediate feedback, to see how well the receiver comprehended the message. At the other end of the media richness scale, impersonal written media is just the reverse—only one cue and no feedback—making it low in richness.
The danger of using a rich medium for routine matters (such as monthly sales reports) is that it results in information overloading—more information than necessary.
E-mail and Facebook and Twitter messages vary in media richness, being leaner if they impersonally blanket a large audience and richer if they mix personal textual and video information that prompts quick conversational feedback.
•Encoding barrier—the message is not expressed correctly. Example: If your vocabulary is lacking or English is not your first language, you may have difficulty expressing to a supervisor, coworker, or subordinate what it is you mean to say.
•Medium barrier—the communication channel is blocked. Example: When someone’s phone always has a busy signal or a computer network is down, these are instances of the communication medium being blocked.
•Decoding barrier—the recipient doesn’t understand the message. Example: Perhaps you’re afraid to show your ignorance when someone is throwing computer terms at you and says that your computer connection has “a bandwidth problem.”
•Receiver barrier—no message gets received. Example: Because you were talking to a coworker, you weren’t listening when your supervisor announced today’s work assignments.
•Feedback barrier—the recipient doesn’t respond enough. Example: You give some people street directions, but since they only nod their heads and don’t repeat the directions back to you, you don’t really know whether you were understood.
As global communications have become so important, so have semantic difficulties, which we may often encounter when dealing with other cultures. When talking on the phone with Indians working in call centers in India, for example, we may find their pronunciation unusual. Perhaps that is because, according to one Indian speech-voice consultant, whereas “Americans think in English, we think in our mother tongue and translate it while speaking.”
Jargon is terminology specific to a particular profession or group. (Example: “The HR VP wants the RFP to go out ASAP.” Translation: “The vice president of human resources wants the request for proposal to go out as soon as possible.”) Another problem is the use of buzzwords, such as “leverage,” “interface,” or “circle back”—annoying words primarily designed to impress rather than inform. (Example: “Could you interface with that team on its ad campaign that’s gone viral, and then circle back with me? If we can leverage similar assets, we’ll have a game changer.”)
As a manager in a specialized field, you need to remember that what are ordinary terms for you may be mysteries to outsiders.
How often have you wondered, when someone has shown a surprising response to something you said, how the miscommunication happened? Let’s examine nine personal barriers that contribute to miscommunication.
Are you from a working-class or privileged background? Are you from a particular ethnic group? Are you better at math or at language? Are you from a chaotic household filled with alcoholism and fighting, which distracts you at work? Because people use different frames of reference and experiences to interpret the world around them, they are selective about what things have meaning to them and what don’t. All told, these differences affect what we say and what we think we hear.
Big egos are certainly a factor when managers tune out workers’ ideas, a frequent employee complaint—and often they’re right, according to some research. “People in powerful positions, such as managers, tend to dismiss others’ advice when making decisions,” says one summary.
Indeed, people with high levels of power—motivated by feelings of competitiveness—tend to discount advice from experts and novices equally. (Individuals with neutral and low levels of power weigh advice from experts and experienced advisors more heavily than advice from novices.) Researchers found that women were more likely than men to take others’ advice.
Nonverbal communication consists of messages sent outside of the written or spoken word. Says one writer, it includes such factors as “use of time and space, distance between persons when conversing, use of color, dress, walking behavior, standing, positioning, seating arrangement, office locations, and furnishings.”
Perhaps 65% of every conversation is partially interpreted through nonverbal communication, according to some experts. Others estimate nonverbal communication is responsible for as much as 93-95% of a message. Given the prevalence of nonverbal communication and its impact on organizational behavior (such as hiring decisions, perceptions of others, and getting one’s ideas accepted by others), it is important that you become familiar with the various sources of nonverbal communication. Indeed, this is particularly so when you are dealing with people of other cultures around the world, as we saw back in Chapter 4 in our discussion of cultural differences.
Six ways in which nonverbal communication is expressed are through (1) eye contact, (2) facial expressions, (3) body movements and gestures, (4) touch, (5) setting, and (6) time.
For instance, Westerners are taught at an early age to look at their parents when spoken to. However, Asians are taught to avoid eye contact with a parent or superior in order to show obedience and subservience.
Open body positions, such as leaning backward, express openness, warmth, closeness, and availability for communication. Closed body positions, such as folding one’s arms or crossing one’s legs, represent defensiveness. Body movements can be extremely subtle; for instance, when we say, “I’m looking forward to … ,” guess which direction we tend to lean (if only very slightly)?
Some body movements and gestures are associated more with one sex than the other, according to communication researcher Judith Hall. For instance, women nod their heads and move their hands more than men do. Men exhibit large body shifts and foot and leg movements more than women do.
We need to point out, however, that interpretations of body language are subjective, hence easily misinterpreted, and highly dependent on the context and cross-cultural differences. You’ll need to be careful when trying to interpret body movements, especially when you’re operating in a different culture.
Men and women interpret touching differently, with women tending to do more touching during conversations than men do. If women touch men, it is viewed as sexual; the same interpretation is made when men touch other men. Yet even handshakes and embracing seem to be changing, with the male handshake now evolving into a range of more intimate gestures—”the one-armed hug, the manly shoulder bump, the A-frame clasp with handshake in the middle, the mutual back-slap,” as one article puts it. Good teams tend to use touch more than bad teams do, according to some research.
The table below gives some suggestions for better nonverbal communication skills.
Men are also eight times as likely as women to bargain over starting pay. Indeed, says one account, “Women often are less adroit at winning better salaries, assignments, and jobs—either because they don’t ask or because they cave in when they do.” In other words, women need to hone their negotiation skills, or else they will fall behind.
Some possible general differences in communication between genders are summarized below. Note, however, that these don’t apply in all cases, which would constitute stereotyping.
How useful do you think these specific styles are in a managerial context?
Author Judith Tingley suggests that women and men should learn to “genderflex”—temporarily use communication behaviors typical of the other gender to increase the potential for influence. For example, a female manager might use sports analogies to motivate a group of males.
Interestingly, although men hold most of the top corporate jobs, when they want the advice of an executive coach—a trained listener to help them with their goals and personal problems—they usually turn to a woman. And, in fact, females always want another female as a coach. As a result, 7 out of 10 graduates of Coach U, the largest training school for executive coaches, are women. Because good coaches, says Coach U’s CEO Sandy Vilas (who is male), are intuitive communicators and have done a lot of personal development work, “that profile tends to fit women better.” Says Susan Bloch, who heads an executive coaching practice, “When a man is asked to coach another, they have a tendency to compete. Man to man, they have to show each other how great they are.”
Formal communication is of three types: (1) vertical—meaning upward and downward, (2) horizontal—meaning laterally (sideways), and (3) external—meaning outside the organization.
Most downward communication involves one of the following kinds of information:
•Instructions related to particular job tasks. Example (supervisor to subordinate): “The store will close Monday for inventory. All employees are expected to participate.”
•Explanations about the relationship between two or more tasks. Example: “While taking inventory, employees need to see what things are missing. Most of that might be attributable to shoplifting.”
•Explanations of the organization’s procedures and practices. Example: “Start counting things on the high shelves and work your way down.”
•A manager’s feedback about a subordinate’s performance. Example: “It’s best not to try to count too fast.”
•Attempts to encourage a sense of mission and dedication to the organization’s goals. Example: “By keeping tabs on our inventory, we can keep our prices down and maintain our reputation of giving good value.”
Most upward communication involves the following kinds of information:
•Reports of progress on current projects. Example: “We shut down the store yesterday to take inventory.”
•Reports of unsolved problems requiring help from people higher up. Example: “We can’t make our merchandise count jibe with the stock reports.”
•New developments affecting the work unit. Example: “Getting help from the other stores really speeded things up this year.”
•Suggestions for improvements. Example: “The stores should loan each other staff every time they take inventory.”
•Reports on employee attitudes and efficiency. Example: “The staff likes it when they go to another store and sometimes they pick up some new ways of doing things.”
Horizontal communication can be impeded in three ways: (1) by specialization that makes people focus just on their jobs alone; (2) by rivalry between workers or work units, which prevents sharing of information; and (3) by lack of encouragement from management.
Two types of informal channels are (1) the grapevine and (2) management by wandering around.
Of course, employee language—otherwise known as “gossip”—can be notoriously misleading and a great reducer of morale in a dysfunctional company.
Management by wandering around helps to reduce the problems of distortion that inevitably occur with formal communication flowing up a hierarchy. MBWA allows managers to listen to employees and learn about their problems as well as to express to employees what values and goals are important.
Multicommunicating represents “the use of technology to participate in several interactions at the same time,” in one explanation. Examples would be answering e-mail messages during a lecture, and texting during a dinner conversation or while participating in a group conference call.
Although multicommunicating sometimes enables us to get more things done in a shorter amount of time, there are times and places when it also can create miscommunication and lead to stress and hurt feelings. For example, texting and checking your-email while working with colleagues can be seen as not only annoying but insulting.
The universal digital language of 1s and 0s gives us immediate access to unprecedented amounts of information and globe-spanning opportunities.
However, the very act of using technologies such as e-mail, texting, Facebook, and Twitter may influence the content of our communications. For example, researchers found that peers rate each other differently depending on the medium they use, with people being “far more likely to trash their colleagues via e-mail than when filling out a paper form,” according to a Fortune writer. Moreover, faster, far-flung digital communication doesn’t necessarily mean better communication. In one organization, for example, employees with the most extensive personal digital networks were found to be 7% more productive than their colleagues, but those with the most cohesive face-to-face networks were even more productive—30% more, in fact. Research on high-performing teams similarly found that effective teams had more face-to-face than digital encounters.
Hard on the heels of the Millennials is today’s young “iGeneration,” for whom technology is “simply a part of their DNA,” as one child psychologist observed.68 Indeed, if you are an 18- to 24-year-old, you generally watch the smallest amount of live TV (3½ hours a day) compared with any other age group, but you spend the most time text messaging (19 minutes a day) and watch the most online video (5½ minutes a day).69 The average teenager now sends a median of 60 texts a day (up from 50 in 2009).
In a few years, Millennials (Net Gen, Gen Y) will account for nearly half the employees in the world, and in some companies they already constitute a majority. Their outlook, therefore, is having a profound impact on the workplace, “bringing new approaches to collaboration, knowledge sharing, and innovation in businesses and governments,” says University of Toronto professor Don Tapscott, author of Grown Up Digital. Tapscott and his fellow researchers have identified eight norms for this generation.
What kind of attitudes, preferences, and expectations do Millennials have that employers have to take into account in managing them? Millennials exhibit a thirst for instant gratification and quick fixes and problems with focus and diminished attention spans, says one study. They also “place a strong emphasis on finding work that’s personally fulfilling,” says one article. “They want work to afford them the opportunity to make new friends, learn new skills, and connect to a larger purpose.” At least as important as compensation are six types of rewards, expressed in order as high-quality colleagues, flexible work arrangements, prospects for advancement, recognition from one’s company or boss, a steady rate of advancement and promotion, and access to new experiences and challenges. To deal with this cohort of employees, IBM advises managers giving feedback to be clear, keep it loose, promote a dialogue, and keep notes to make feedback sessions more constructive.
2.Customization—the desire to have personalized products and choices. Customization covers everything from ring tone choices to Facebook layouts to lifestyle choices.
3.Scrutiny—not taking “facts” and authority figures at face value. Knowing that there is both treasure and trash on the Internet, this generation has learned to be skeptical, to check things out, to ask probing questions. Candor and straight talk are favored.
4.Integrity—trust in people, products, and employers is important. This generation cares about honesty, transparency, and keeping commitments—although they are elastic when it comes to pirating music and plagiarism.
5.Collaboration—relationships are of key importance. Members of this generation value volunteering, know how to work and play with others, and are eager to offer opinions and suggestions.
6.Entertainment—keep things moving and interesting. A job should be both challenging and fun, not a life sentence. For this multitasking generation, the Internet is not only a productivity tool and information source but also a personal communication device and “fun tool of choice.”
7.Speed—instant feedback is expected. Used to instant-feedback video games and nanosecond answers from Google, Millennials prefer rapid-fire texting, instant messaging, and Tweeting to the slower e-mail. This leads them to urge faster decision making and feedback on job performance.
8.Innovation—impatience for new and different user experiences. In the workplace, the traditional hierarchy is rejected in favor of work processes that encourage collaboration and creativity.
Videoconferencing does not beat face-to-face meetings for opening a relationship with a prospective client or closing a decision. Indeed, one study found that when a company reduces its travel budget for personal meetings, it loses both revenue and profits. In fact, if a company completely eliminated business travel, corporate profits could drop 17% in the first year, the study found, and it would take more than 3 years for profits to reach the same level as before. Still, meetings via videoconferencing certainly are better than no meetings at all.
Clearly, telepresence technology can be quite expensive. Other equipment enables people to attach small cameras and microphones to their desks or computer monitors. This enables employees to conduct long-distance meetings and training classes without leaving their office or cubicle.
Among the benefits are (1) reduction of capital costs, because employees work at home; (2) increased flexibility and autonomy for workers; (3) competitive edge in recruiting hard-to-get employees; (4) increased job satisfaction and lower turnover; (5) increased productivity; and (6) ability to tap nontraditional labor pools (such as prison inmates and homebound disabled people).
About 24% of rural businesses and 35% of nonrural businesses in the United States currently allow employees to telecommute or telework. Telecommuting is more common for jobs that involve computer work, writing, and phone or brain work that requires concentration and limited interruptions. Although telecommuting represents an attempt to accommodate employee needs and desires, it requires adjustments and is not for everybody.
People who enjoy the social camaraderie of the office setting, for instance, probably won’t like it. Others lack the self-motivation needed to work at home. However, people like Sylvia Marino of Mill Valley, California, who for many years has been telecommuting 350 miles away with Santa Monica-based Edmunds.com, which provides information to car buyers, find it a great way to sustain a career and still be with their children.
Some of those who lack a conventional office may sign up for shared, or “coworking,” spaces, where they socialize around a coffeepot. Whatever the arrangement, employees in different locations and time zones can work simultaneously (called synchronous communication) and team members can work on the same project at different times (asynchronous communication).
The key to protecting digital communication systems against fraud, hackers, identity theft, and other threats is prevention. The table below presents some ways to protect yourself.
In some cases, Internet users are their own worst enemies, posting compromising information about themselves on social networking sites that may be available to, say, potential employers. Supposedly such websites have various options whereby users can choose who is and is not allowed access to their personal information, but Facebook, for one, came in for a good deal of criticism because it altered its privacy controls in such a way as to expose many of its members’ personal information online.
Interestingly, however, 18- to 29-year-olds have been found to be more likely than older users of social networks to keep a keen eye on their online profiles and who can access them—just the opposite of what many people expected.
Smartphone problems range from merely annoying (loud ring tones and loud conversations in public places) to unethical and illegal (sending pornographic photos and photographing restricted areas of materials) to deadly (distracting drivers from the road). One survey found that 78% of those interviewed said that people are less polite, courteous, and respectful in smartphone manners than they were 5 years earlier. Phone use by car drivers makes even young people drive erratically, moving and reacting more slowly and increasing their risk of accidents.
Distraction. “How have e-mail, social media, and other tools designed to organize information morphed into their own kind of relentless taskmasters?” asks one business journalist. Productivity guru David Allen, however, argues that technology isn’t the problem; it’s just that people let themselves be distracted because they’re not clear about their own goals.
Leaving wrong impression. Ill-advised tweets can lead to unpleasant consequences, as happened to musician Courtney Love, who was sued for defamation as a result of making derogatory statements about a designer in her Twitter feed. Twitter users need to think twice before spontaneously making an announcement or spontaneously responding.
Replacing real conversation. “Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding,” says psychologist Sherry Turkle. “We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology.” But the little “sips” of online connection do not substitute for face-to-face conversation. “We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely,” she says. “The opposite is true.”
•Use language relevant to your particular audience members and communicate with, not at, them. Show appreciation for them.
•Remember all wall posts are public. Don’t write anything not intended for public consumption.
•All updates should be relevant.
•Take customer-sensitive issues off Facebook, into a private sphere, online or offline.
•Ask questions on the wall posts, but follow up and respond to any feedback received.
Poor listeners use this information-processing gap to daydream. They think about other things, thus missing the important parts of what’s being communicated. Good listeners know how to use these gaps effectively, mentally summarizing the speaker’s remarks, weighing the evidence, and listening between the lines. Listening skills, incidentally, are particularly important when you’re communicating in the global culture.
Appreciative style—listening to be amused. An appreciative listener tends to listen for pleasure, doing easy listening and tending to tune out when there’s no amusement or humor in what he or she is listening to.
Empathic style—tuning into the speaker’s emotions. An empathic listener focuses on the speaker’s feelings, concentrating on what he or she sees as well as says and reading people’s body language and reactions.
Comprehensive style—focusing on the speaker’s logic. A comprehensive listener tries to determine the rationale of the speaker’s argument, preferring logical presentations without interruptions, focusing on relationships among ideas, relating messages to his or her own experiences, waiting until all the information is available before expressing opinions.
Discerning style—focusing on the main message. A discerning listener tries to determine the speaker’s main message and important points, often taking copious notes and concentrating hard on what the speaker says. Discerning listeners are good listeners and like information that flows evenly.
Evaluative style—challenging the speaker. An evaluative listener listens analytically, all the while formulating challenges to the speaker’s points, asking lots of questions (perhaps to the point of being interruptive), and sometimes tuning out the speaker and missing data. If evaluative listeners receive too much illogical information, they often leave.
2.Judge content, not delivery. Don’t tune out someone because of his or her accent, clothing, mannerisms, personality, or speaking style.
3.Ask questions, summarize remarks. Good listening is hard work. Ask questions to make sure you understand. Recap what the speaker said.
4.Listen for ideas. Don’t get diverted by the details; try to concentrate on the main ideas.
5.Resist distractions, show interest. Don’t get distracted by things other people are doing, paperwork on your desk, things happening outside the window, television or radio, and the like. Show the speaker you’re listening, periodically restating in your own words what you’ve heard.
6.Give a fair hearing. Don’t shut out unfavorable information just because you hear a term—”Republican,” “Democrat,” “union,” “big business,” “affirmative action,” “corporate welfare”—that suggests ideas you’re not comfortable with. Try to correct for your biases.
Be savvy about periodicals and books. As a manager, you should review your magazine and newspaper subscriptions and eliminate as many as possible. You can subscribe to just a few industry publications, scan and mark interesting material, later read what’s marked, and pitch the rest. Read summaries and reviews that condense business books and articles.
Transfer your reading load. With some material you can ask some of your employees to screen or scan it first, then post an action note on each item that needs additional reading by you. You can also ask your staff to read important books and summarize them in four or five pages.
Make internal memos and e-mail more efficient. Ask others to tell you up front in their e-mails, memos, and reports what they want you to do. Instruct them to include a one-page executive summary of a long report. When you communicate with them, give them specific questions you want answered.
This leads to what she calls a “top-down” strategy for reading, a variant on the SQ3R (Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review) method we discussed in the box at the end of Chapter 1. The top-down system is shown below.
A lot of students, however, don’t get enough practice in writing, which puts them at a career disadvantage. Most will have to be able to write standout job-seeking cover letters to accompany their résumés and later to write winning business proposals.
Taking a business writing class can be a real advantage. (Indeed, as a manager, you may have to identify employees who need writing training.)
Following are some tips for writing more effectively. These apply particularly to memos and reports but are also applicable to e-mail messages.
Some other tips are shown at left.
Most important to least important. This is a good strategy when the action you want your reader to take is logical and not highly political.
Least controversial to most controversial. This builds support gradually and is best used when the decision is controversial or your reader is attached to a particular solution other than the one you’re proposing.
Negative to positive. This strategy establishes a common ground with your reader and puts the positive argument last, which makes it stronger.
Highlighting consists of using boldface and italics to emphasize key concepts and introduce new concepts, and bullets—small circles or squares like the ones in the list you’re reading—to emphasize list items. (Don’t overuse any of these devices, or they’ll lose their effect. And particularly don’t use ALL CAPITAL LETTERS for emphasis, except rarely.)
White space, which consists of wide margins and a break between paragraphs, produces a page that is clean and attractive.
However, the ability to talk to a room full of people—to make an oral presentation—is one of the greatest skills you can have. A study conducted by AT&T and Stanford University found that the top predictor of success and professional upward mobility is how much you enjoy public speaking and how effective you are at it.
The biggest problem most people have with public speaking is controlling their nerves, since 46% of adults say the activity they dread most—exceeding housecleaning, 43%, and visiting the dentist, 41%—is public speaking (called glossophobia). Author and lecturer Gael Lindenfield suggests that you can prepare your nerves by practicing your speech until it’s near perfect, visualizing yourself performing with brilliance, getting reassurance from a friend, and getting to the speaking site early and releasing physical tension by doing deep breathing.
(And staying away from alcohol and caffeine pick-me-ups before your speech.) Some people find they do better if they stay away from their notes and just speak from the heart.
As for the content of the speech, some brief and valuable advice is offered by speechwriter Phil Theibert, who says a speech comprises just three simple rules: (1) Tell them what you’re going to say. (2) Say it. (3) Tell them what you said.
“Good afternoon. The subject of identity theft may seem far removed from the concerns of most employees. But I intend to describe how our supposedly private credit, health, employment, and other records are vulnerable to theft by so-called identity thieves and how you can protect yourself.”
Be particularly attentive to transitions during the main body of the speech. Listening differs from reading in that the listener has only one chance to get your meaning. Thus, be sure you constantly provide your listeners with guidelines and transitional phrases so they can see where you’re going. Example:
“There are five ways the security of your supposedly private files can be compromised. The first way is … “
Many professional speakers consider the conclusion to be as important as the introduction, so don’t drop the ball here. You need a solid, strong, persuasive wrap-up.
Use some sort of signal phrase that cues your listeners that you are heading into your wind-up. Examples:
“Let’s review the main points …”
“In conclusion, what CAN you do to protect against unauthorized invasion of your private files? I point out five main steps. One …”
Give some thought to the last thing you will say. It should be strongly upbeat, a call to action, a thought for the day, a little story, a quotation. Examples:
“I want to leave you with one last thought …”
“Finally, let me close by sharing something that happened to me … ”
“As Albert Einstein said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.'”
Then say “Thank you” and stop talking.