Categories: Agile Correspondence, Communication Factors and Approaches, Communication Impacts and Effects
Communication in the workplace is crucial to an individual’s as well as workflows. Organizations interact significantly with various functional and project stakeholders of diverse structures and cultures in the global economy; thus, affecting the fluidity of message transmission and fluency of decoding the meaning. This post explores basic factors of communication, its appropriate approaches, probable impacts, and knock-on effects on individuals’, teams’ and organizations’ productivity. Factors covered in this write-up are “efficiency and effectiveness”, “purpose and importance”, “sensitive nature”, “structure and culture”, and “understand audience”. The common approaches to communicate include push, pull, mass, interpersonal, and interactive. Communication tools in the workplace are more diverse and sophisticated than ever. Development in computer and telephone technologies expands the range of options to facilitate sending and receiving messages. The tools for transmitting updates and reports to colleagues, superiors, customers and suppliers in real-time, virtual time and pre-set time are vital to successful delivery and receiving of intended messages.
1. Efficiency and Effectiveness
Efficient transmission conveys a message promptly, whereby the sender moves on to other tasks after sending the message. Text messages, emails and voice mails may all be viable methods, as they permit senders to complete the intended communication conveniently and swiftly. However, it is important to note that the usage of efficient communicating methods does not necessarily render effective communication, due to the absence of feedback loops and acknowledgement in person. When intended recipients did not receive the message in an intended manner, effectiveness is lacking.
When the task is of critical nature, one useful assurance is to engage more than one medium. Follow up an email message with a telephone call may take up time, but this is more assuring and effective than requesting a "read" receipt. When recipients and senders nurture a mutual understating and vision, the impact is building a strong relationship between both parties. This impact on the relationship will entail securing their agreement and cooperation, and the effect is more willing to share information and follow up; thus, achieving productivity. This takes time and effort but is effective in the long term.
2. Purpose and Importance
The degree of efficiency and effectiveness of the transmission depends on the sender to determine the purpose of engaging with the receiver. Routine or non-urgent topics that need to distribute directly to specific recipients may benefit most from the push method that addresses the targeted mass audience (PMBOK, 2017: pp.374). Emails, memos and bulletin posts are examples of push method to convey information efficiently for purposes such as disseminating project milestones and updates and issuing reminders about the company policy for using up balanced annual leaves to employees. There is little need to extend the communication to an interactive approach when the intention is to disseminate routine information. Pull method is optimal when the purpose is for recipients to access the content at their discretion, such as self-learning, accessing project knowledge and retrieving project tasks, (PMBOK, 2017: pp.374). Examples of pull method include e-learning, knowledge repositories and scheduling software.
Conversely, in internal or external organizational changes, seeking participation and evaluation from stakeholder buy-in are important matters that necessitate a thorough discussion with an appreciation of both verbal and non-verbal communication. Implementing organizational changes is beyond the dissemination of information; it requires managing and controlling the change process. For this, regular communication with feedback loops and following-up is essential, as this provides the effective opportunity for others to discuss the impact of the changes on their work routines, even though this are not very efficient. Such employees’ input will consequently affect their satisfaction of individual contribution and organizational life. Interactive tools such as discussion forums, communication applications and social intranets software have comprehensive and agile features that allow users’ participation; thus, enabling active stakeholder engagement (PMBOK, 2017: pp.381).
3. Sensitivity Nature
When the purpose of the communication concerns a sensitive matter, it is advisable to seek out a more private form of communication that allows the parties to seek and deliver feedback between them only. Handle sensitive message delicately in a more direct way in person or by telephone in a private conversation. Some examples are appraising employees’ performances, notifying those who missed out on promotion and investigating an employee for a policy violation. Elder colleagues may perceive receiving information through technological devices as disrespectful, particularly when it is of importance and sensitive nature to them.
However, sensitive messages are subjective to individuals as one may have a different perspective on sensitivity nature; hence, take consideration of recipients’ perspectives. While it is difficult to convey bad news, we need to adhere to the business and social protocol of having a private conversation with active listening. This involves clear understanding, clarifying and confirming and acknowledging each other to remove barriers (PMBOK, 2017: pp.386). This allows the two parties to interact in a real-time and richer manner with the usage of body and non-verbal language that carry emotional cues (Kourdi, 2015: pp.128). Failure to address sensitive topics diplomatically will lead to distrust and subsequently harms the working relationship.
4. Organizational Structure and Culture
When the hierarchical level of the organizational structure is high, the communication is likely to go through several levels according to the hierarchical chain. Information may become outdated or distorted as it flows up and down the hierarchy and thus affecting its visibility (Kourdi, 2015: pp.129). Hence, there is a need to check and ensure the information we have on hand is latest and accurate before sending to the next recipients. When the organization has multiple divisions with each having its hierarchy structure, the divisions develop different correspondence chains. Hence, they become distant from one another and cause inflexibility in lateral direction among employees of similar hierarchy level and vertical direction between subordinates and superiors in the same department, as well as diagonal correspondence among cross-functional members.
Engineering function’s priority is to enhance a product’s technical specifications with optimized configurations and materials. Adapting to customer fluctuating demands and satisfying quickly to hit sales targets and increase revenues is the Sales function’s priority. Ensuring the optimal quality and quantities of raw materials received in the plant to manufacture into finished goods and deliver to customers on time is the Logistics function’s priority. Hence, we need to put ourselves into the recipients’ perspectives and think of common organizational goal or vision before shaping our message. Robbins and Judge (2014: pp.261-62) suggested that organizations can develop or change toward a more organic and decentralized structure to encourage people to be more proactive and put in sincerity in communication.
Robbins and Judge (2014: pp.297) wrote that organizational culture is the set of shared values and employee behaviors that direct organizational members’ interactions with internal functions and external parties. The structure, policy, and people of the organization shape and control its culture. Complicated bureaucracy and network with people from different countries of different time zones strongly influence the working culture with diverse motivational factors and coordination issues. Hence, developing a cohesive environment and mutual synergy working towards the bigger picture is vital to cross-collaboration and communication.
5. Understand Your Audience
i) Personal Characteristics
It is common to interact with people via communication mediums with which both or all parties are most comfortable. If we prefer interpersonal communication when interacting with others, we will incline towards face-to-face conversations with a personal touch (PMBOK, 2017: pp.374). Conversely, if the sender and receiver(s) preferred the convenience of using a smartphone, the sender will be likely to pick up the device to reach out to the receiver(s). Before doing so, it is important to consider the intended recipients of the message. Is the visit usually pre-scheduled or impromptu; does he/she typically sends messages to you by email, phone call, or approach you directly? As these behaviors indicate the communication preferences that others are more comfortable, following their lead can facilitate a smoother communication flow. It will be easier to accept difficult messages and maintain mutual trust when conveying messages in a manner that is comfortable for the recipients.
ii) Age Diversity
The age diversity of today’s workforce presents an opportunity for employees to explore digital competency and extend their communication repertoire. Millennials, or Generation Y, are employees of age mid-twenties to late-thirties, who are generally more accustomed and agile to a digital mindset than other age groups; hence, they are more likely to embrace the latest communication technology such as social intranet software with interactive multimedia creation and file-sharing capability and Artificial Intelligence (AI) chatbots with machine learning capability. Even though millennials may be less skilled and less comfortable with direct and in-person conversation, they do seek coaching and mentoring on topics and skills they desired.
Generation X, employees of age forties to mid-fifties are comfortable with using standard organizational methods as the routine form of communication with the emphasis on results. As they have experience of working with younger and elder colleagues and gone through technology developments, tailoring traditional and modern communication means has the potential for a positive effect on an individual, team and organizational productivity.
Baby boomers, those employees in their mid-fifties to mid-seventies, possess the mindset of hard-work and paying one's dues. Employees in this seasoned cohort value the professional courtesy of face-to-face conversations and receiving news in a way that enables two-way traffic with non-verbal communication from body language.
iii) Cultural Diversity
Equally necessary, consider the cultural diversity among the project team’s members, as communication styles have different interpretations depending on the national cultures (Steers, Nardon and Sánchez-Runde, 2013: pp.191). The use of eye contact projects confidence, respect and attentiveness in Western cultures, but it may portray as disrespectful in Asian cultures, especially when communicating with someone of higher work position. People of Western cultures are more likely to be comfortable with direct communication with verbal cues, which differs from people of Asian cultures, who prefer to use indirect communication with non-verbal cues or body language rather than direct statements Steers, Nardon and Sánchez-Runde, 2013: pp.202). Hence, cultural differences will influence communication preference, which in turn affects the relationship among colleagues and between superiors and subordinates. One thing to take note – we should view the age groups and different cultures as a reference instead of stereotyping, as individuals’ characteristics vary.
I learn that as organizations’ structures and cultures vary, we need to shape our message to meet the common organizational goal and develop a positive working environment with the mutual synergy that entails communication to be engaging. Important, sensitive and complex messages require richer forms of interaction that encompass exchanging information and processing emotional cues, along with two-way or multiple-way feedback. Speaking with the recipients before or upon sending the message may be a hassle and inefficient in the short-term, but this builds a strong commitment and ensures clear understanding and exchanges from both parties in the long-term. As each of us is different in demographics and characteristics, we need to observe astutely and listen actively of those we interact; thus, tailor communication to be fluid and fluent.
Factors of communication intertwine with each other and influence our choice of communication approaches and tools, which subsequently bring the impacts of working relationship and satisfaction to individuals and teams. These ultimately have significant effects on understanding the message, willingness to follow up and work productivity. Therefore, it is important to utilize the appropriate communication method for each situation. Seeking deeper, we should examine further on underlying concerns of senders’ and receivers’ such as their emotional states, writing skills, speaking ability, listening astuteness, knowledge of the message topics, etc, for sustaining agile communication.
Kourdi, J. (2015). The Economist Series: Business Strategy: A Guide To Effective Decision-Making. 3rd Ed. New York: PublicAffairs Publishing.
PMBOK Guide (2017). A Guide To The Project Management Body Of Knowledge. 3rd Ed. Newtown Square, Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.
Robbins, S. and Judge, T. (2014). Organizational Behavior, 12th Ed. Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education Limited.
Steers, R., Nardon, L. and Sánchez-Runde, C. (2013). Management Across Cultures: Developing Global Competencies. 2nd Ed. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.