Take five - communicate better

11th Mar 2010

Encouraging efficient, effective and appropriate communication is one of HR’s greatest challenges. Jim Collins promotes having 'to do' and 'stop doing' lists to help efficency, and Michael Richards has put together these five tips, which are the first of a two part series to help you break the bad communication habits. So take five and break five...

1. Reliance on email
Hiding behind email has long since caused unnecessary disputes. But in a culture that relies on forms of electronic communication, it can seem revolutionary to suggest resorting to such outdated methods as telephone or face to face meetings. 

The key is to help employees appreciate that email is a valuable and indeed critical tool for how we communicate, but it cannot replace other methods of communication and must be used appropriately. It is especially important to recognise that e-mail, whilst sent immediately, may not be read immediately, so don’t use it for something unexpected and urgent.

Work with employees to identify the times when email impedes effective communication. For example, when a complex issue has resulted in a long email trail that is likely to lead to misunderstandings and inevitable recriminations; when line managers are simply ‘copied in’ to emails on contentious matters, with no prior explanation; or when emails contain lengthy text that would be better suited to a centrally shared document for reference.

Knowing the whys and wherefores of poor communication will help employees to recognise best practice and use it in their daily emailing.

2. Cloak and dagger methods.
As HR people, we often talk about the transparency of personnel information, but openness extends much further than just absence and appraisal data. 

For example, honesty about business performance is essential in preventing rumours that can lead to low morale, conflict and in extreme cases, job losses. Therefore it’s important that business leaders hold regular briefing sessions with employees to communicate financial performance and other business-critical information. Not only does this demonstrate trust in your employees, it also places an emphasis on the employee as much as the business leader to impact ongoing performance.

3. Over-use of jargon
Without resorting to pot psychology, it’s fair to say that there are very few tactics less ‘playground’ than over-use of jargon. In the business world it’s one of the most commonly used techniques to establish an in-club and thereby exert superiority over others. Think it sounds a little juvenile? Well that’s because it is. Jargon is often no more than a tool of divisiveness, used to bamboozle and belittle those around us.

Of course we all use jargon to some degree. For example, phrases like ‘bottom line’, ‘KPI’ or ‘workforce intelligence’ are bound to pepper the HR vernacular at some point. But it’s when conversations or documents become so jargon-heavy that they lose some of their meaning that it becomes a problem.

Again, working with employees to encourage greater clarity in communication, is essential to making jargon less integral to your culture. That doesn’t mean removing jargon altogether, but try to make it clear that we should select words based on how helpful they are to the audience. Say what you mean.

4. Using 20 words when two will do
Brief, to-the-point communication has far greater impact than verbose documents/presentations.  Avoid including information that obscures rather than aids meaning.

Brevity is essential for effective communication.  Employees experience pressures that place considerable demands on their time so the simpler your internal documents, the more likely it is that they will be read and understood.  This applies to everyone:  ask people to use bullet points and other tools that make information easy to read.  Only include the essentials and avoid language that may be confusing or off-putting to others.  

5. Over-use of meetings
Like over-emailing, a reliance on meetings can be just as damaging for communication. While meetings are an invaluable means of improving communication, they are only useful when conducted well. For this reason it’s helpful to bear in mind the following:

Insist on good time keeping – Don’t be shy about punctuality. If people are late, start without them. Setting a professional scene is imperative for preventing dilly dallying and other such time-wasting activities. Equally, avoid over-running on allocated time slots and lunch breaks etc.

Outcomes – what do you want to achieve from the meeting? This doesn’t mean writing out long lists of objectives, but know roughly what you want the outcome to be -helping everyone to keep to schedule and focus on the task at hand.

Who you invite – do you really need to involve everyone from the finance director through to the newest telemarketer? Getting the right people on board is vital to keep everything on track. Should others need updating, identify your key individuals and ask them to cascade messages accordingly.

Duration – it might make us feel terribly useful, but long meetings are notoriously dull and can be criminally ineffective. Do bear in mind that attention spans vary and that seemingly endless meetings can drain attendees of creativity and resourcefulness. Ask colleagues to be considerate in their meeting planning – factoring in plenty of breaks to keep people energised and on top of their game.

Give appropriate information – make sure you give attendees plenty of notice and say when, where and what the agenda is. This helps everyone to prepare appropriate materials and consider the points to be discussed – ensuring a more productive outcome.

  • Stay tuned for the next five habits to break next week!

Michael Richards is Director of 2nd Head

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By Doug Shaw
12th Mar 2010 08:36

A practical thing that one can do at any meeting is to ask, “What have we agreed to do?” and in turn, “What are you personally going to do to help us achieve what we have all agreed to do?” Then listen for a SMART objective. Anyone is more likely to deliver what he or she hears themselves commit to aloud in front of their peers than to fulfill someone else’s draft of the minutes of a meeting long after the discussion. That commitment and delivery builds positive trust very quickly. Lead the way!

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