The Thing We Want Communication to Be, but it Rarely Is
If you’d ask me to share one common place regarding work in different organizations, that would certainly be effective communication. We all strive to be effective communicators in the workplace, but the scoreboard says we fail most of the time.
The beginning of this story might be stating the obvious: communication is considered native to each and every one of us.
We send and receive messages from the moment we take our first breath, so communication comes quite naturally.
Communicating is something we do every day, without even wanting to.
The way we choose to send, receive and respond to messages, says a lot about our personalities and the relationships we nurture.
Everyone has their own personal communication style and incorporating different communications styles to different work environments is challenging. This is exactly when we should start talking about company culture and the values team members share.
When I started working at Two Desperados earlier this year, my mission was to create a specific communication style for the company. I was led by the CEO, who helped me understand what he thought was crucial for the company’s vision regarding the AI chapter we are unlocking.
It might seem that at that point, I could have proposed any kind of communication strategy that came to my mind, but not quite. External communication has to reflect the team’s exact atmosphere and not only what is considered “desirable” for attracting talent, investors or simply getting spotted by the general public.
Company culture influences communication effectiveness
This is why my first stop was to learn more about the culture that was forming in the company and within different teams. By closely observing the communication flow and feeling the atmosphere between coworkers, I could map the potential obstacles to effective communication.
Oftentimes, I heard from my colleagues that they think “honesty is key” and that they are open for any kind of feedback, which encouraged me to mirror the “no bullshit” approach in external communications as well.
Openness is a great starting point, especially for a team this young, but it doesn’t mean we all are attentive listeners.
Being able to receive and understand information, interpret it in a business context and plan further actions based on the goals of your organisation is essential for effective communicators. However, this doesn’t exclude emotions.
Being assertive is not always good
My first impressions about internal communications at Two Desperados can be summarized in the following words: cheerful, humoristic and frank.
Sometimes, no one was assertive at all, which I now see as a good thing after reading what Friedemann Schulz von Thun, a German psychologist has to say about it.
For a long time, assertiveness was the pedestal of interpersonal communication. Instead of saying to your colleagues “You don’t understand me…”, proponents of assertiveness would advise you to say “Maybe I didn’t express myself in the right way…” or “I don’t think we understand each other…”.
The aforementioned psychologist claims the last two sentences actually mask feelings and that no one will benefit from hiding them. Instead, feelings should be balanced and channeled towards developing better understanding and interpretations of information.
On receiving, understanding and interpreting information
You are receiving information and showing you understand what is being said.
Being an attentive listener doesn’t necessarily mean you see eye to eye with the sender, regarding the meaning of the message.
As per Schulz von Thun’s learnings, there are four different types of ears:
👂 The first one focuses on the sender of the message, his personality.
👂 The second, emphasises the content of the message, the facts.
👂 The third ear reads demands and instructions from a certain message, what needs to be done, how one should feel or react to a message.
👂 The last one accents the relation between the sender and the receiver of the message, where a sender gives a qualification or an opinion about the relation simply by passing a piece of information.
The key is not in balancing all four of them, but in letting the right one take the lead. Determining how we make this choice enables us to learn from different situations and apply this knowledge to upcoming ones.
In the workplace, trying to listen using different “ears” will bring new perspectives to ordinary situations, views from different angles.
If I were to create a starter kit for effective communicators, here’s what I would add: openness of spirit, attentive listening and a variety of angles. With all that in your goodie bag, you are well equipped to, at least, not fail all the time. 🙂
Jokes aside, the difficulties we face are due to the complexity of the communication process, even though we consider it native and straightforward. Your communication style might be very clear and facts based, but there is nothing simple about it.
There are just too many variables you can not control, and that is what makes communication thrilling and frustrating at the same time.