Everybody’s talking…

What are the benefits of effective communication in the workplace?

If you’re an employer or organizational leader reading this, you have to be asking yourself how is spending money on more training going to translate into a real return on your investment?

That is a valid concern, so let’s talk specifics. Research confirms that there is more than one type of communication network that exists in any workplace. Among those most commonly identified, we find:

  • Downward communication or Management to Staff 
  • Upward communication of Staff to Management 
  • Horizontal communication or Employee to Employee 
  • External Communication or Customer to Employee 
  • Informal Communication Network, a pattern of networks based on friendships, shared personal or career interests and proximity

While each of these networks benefit from more effective communication, let’s examine that last one in particular, the Informal Communication Network.  Any organization can show you its organizational chart; developing that and keeping it updated demonstrates the authoritative communication ideal to your management and staff. However, does that chart tell you how things really get done in your workplace?  The question invariably comes up when you hand the chart to new employees. They’re thinking: “Sure, this chart helps me to know who runs the show in each department, but how do I get to really know the ropes?

For that, you have to visualize a map depicting the network of a corresponding informal structure. Sure, it is invisible, but it is always at work nonetheless. Think about what occurs when a formal meeting ends at your workplace.  The men often retreat to the “porcelain office,” where they talk among themselves.  You might overhear things like “the boss is serious this time about curtailing travel expenses. Jim heard her on the phone discussing it with the corporate suits yesterday.”

The women may head out to lunch, breaking into cliques. Over salads, they may discuss whether “informal dress” for the company party really means informal. “Should I show up with sandals or is this dressy casual?”  Or they’re talking about whether that accounting department’s memo concerning the budget deadline is really firm or not. “I play tennis with Mark in accounting. He said that deadline was set just to get everyone back on task.”

Everyone mills in and out of the break room throughout the workday, discussing whether those vacancies in the other divisions are a sign of belt-tightening. “Was it fair that the boss’s son was able to get a summer internship when so many other worthy students had applied and were overlooked?”

Many smart managers recognize that this is a very real network and put it to work for them.  For example, Hewlett-Packard adopted an approach to problem-solving called MBWA, Management by Walking Around. Some observers of workplace communication even consider this the most important type of communication network, the primary means of communication. Think about two of its outstanding benefits – it is faster and more dependable. Therefore, doesn’t it make sense to do everything possible to promote constructive interactions among employees?

Suggestion boxes or empty pads of paper on which to record anonymous ideas are possibilities. Putting workers from various divisions or offices together to mingle and share ideas is another way to foster this informal network.  Don’t just limit your thinking to ways to make it happen though.  Talking comes naturally – it happens organically without management having to do a thing.  When it does, do YOU know how are your employees communicating?   That’s a more critical question. 

  • Are they sensitive to cultural and personal differences among themselves and your clients?
  • Are they seeking mentors in the office for the tasks to which they’ve been assigned?
  • Are they willing to help another co-worker with advice?
  • Are they treating each other with respect, articulating ideas, soliciting and giving quality feedback?
  • Do they avoid sharing ideas in formal meetings because they feel their knowledge is inadequate or they are unable to articulate well?
  • Can they interact with your clients or customers with composure and confidence?

Listen Hear offers customized training that helps employees go beyond sociability to communicating in a dimension that is much more strategic. Think about it. How significantly would it affect your bottom line if your employees were communicating to solicit advice, ideas or leads? What if training helped your employees to understand that everyone’s insight can be useful?

Your facilities and maintenance people get around the building and gather interesting information from observation and conversations.  Your “gatekeepers” speak to gatekeepers in other companies.  Imagine the referrals you get already from secondary sources. Do they have the potential to increase your business?  You bet they do! Think “six degrees of separation” or the small-world phenomenon.  The average number of links is really about a half-dozen according to research.  Furthermore, if training in effective communication skills includes conversations about being respectful of others, as well as being ethical communicators, isn’t that the smart way to conduct your business?

Communication occupies more of our working day than any other activity. Without effective communication, there is no success. What would you do to confirm, expand, enhance, expedite, contradict, circumvent or supplement the information received from the formal networks in your workplace? I think you know the answer: you want to ensure that effective communication is taking place, cultivating the informal networks.




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