Communication at work
Many employees work more than 200 days a year. With a working time of 8 hours per day, this is 1,600 hours per year. Without overtime. Multiplied by approx. 35 years of professional activity, this amounts to 56,000 hours. These are 56,000 reasons to deal with communication at work.
Many tips and suggestions
There is a multitude of forms and subject areas that address communication at work in the broadest sense:
- Nonviolent communication emphasizes the impact of language based on our thoughts.
- The discussion with generations explores different perspectives resulting from different values, attitudes and goals.
- The distinction between introversion and extraversion focuses on different feelings and behaviour in communities.
- Non-verbal communication focuses on the messages that people express through their body language.
- One part of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) describes possible communication traps as the cause of misunderstandings in communication and explains ways to avoid these misunderstandings.
All these forms try – in an individual way – to improve the cooperation between people. They advertise with the conscious examination of one’s own personal behaviour and the change of perspective in order to better understand the point of view of the communication partner. They reflect the behaviour and the effect of the individual and try to decipher the messages that are transported in the course of communication. All in all, they are valuable approaches to improve communication with each other, at work, in professional life and in life far away from work. There are many tips and suggestions for each approach; in this article I will focus less on general aspects of workplace communication and more on three specific situations: the job interview, the company hierarchy and wording.
Communication during an interview
The first – at least longer – communication between a company and a potential employee usually takes the form of an interview. Do you know the difference between a good and a less good interview? The difference does not lie in the result, it does not depend on whether a contract is established. There are good job interviews that end with a friendly handshake, a smile and separating paths after the interview. The difference lies in the communication AND the attitude of the participants.
A good interview is about getting to know each other, about ideas, wishes, expectations and opportunities. It is the beginning of a progressive onboarding. Of course, it is mostly about concrete positions, tasks, challenges and skills. But how likely is it that a company will be looking for strong opinionated employees who look beyond the edge of their teacup if the employer merely clarifies the match between tasks and skills in the interview?
“We make decisions together in a team” is a nice statement that many a company likes to write on its own flag and website. Question: Does the new employee already get to know the team during the application process, with whom he or she will work 8 hours a day from now on, or does the superior make the hiring decision alone without feedback from the team?
Communication in the workplace is certainly more than the spoken word, it is also the comparison of words and actions.
When words and actions match
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do” Steve Jobs once said. Such a statement is simply great. As an outsider, I can’t make a valid judgement about Mr Jobs’ leadership style, but basically good communication can also be made by direct approach. Communication often becomes a challenge when words and actions do not match, when statements and messages leave room for interpretation. Good communication does not only have to be “gutschi-gutschi”. This thought leads to another situation.
Communication in organisational structure
Do you use organigrams in your organisation? An organigram shows the structure of companies or parts of companies and thus the organisational units with their tasks. Nowadays, organisational charts are often judged critically because they manifest formal communication channels. This can actually be the case, but it does not have to be so. Whether there are formal communication channels in your organisation, you certainly know without thinking long about it. For example, is it possible to simply exchange information directly with the managing director? Can you simply send your executive board an e-mail without stepping on the feet of various higher management levels?
A further form of communication along the organisation chart, and according to the role and the felt or actual importance of a superior, you can easily recognise when the executive enters your office. Does she expect you to leave everything behind? Should conversations between colleagues in an open-plan office come to an immediate end? And what happens when the phone rings: are you allowed to answer the phone as a support representative or sales representative when a customer calls at that very moment? What if it were a colleague from another department? Without having the perfect solution for every situation, the behaviour of managers and, in turn, of employees says a lot about the culture they live in and thus about communication at work.
For one situation I have a clear solution: in many companies there are choleric superiors. If it is the managing director or owner, it is very unlikely that he will change his behaviour in terms of appreciative communication in the workplace and for the benefit of the employees – if he recognises it as a problem at all and can change it. Leave the company as soon as possible. If it is a mid-level or higher-level executive who is not being made aware by the organisation, colleagues or supervisors of the impossibility of behaviour and the consequences for communication and interaction in the workplace – leave the company.
Wording in the company
Recently I read a remarkable statement on social media. Christoph Smak¹ wrote it on Twitter:
“Not mistakes, but errors.
Not rules, but principles.
Not employment, but added value.
Not resources, but people.
The wordings alone indicate the evolutionary stage of the company”.
And this also applies to communication at work.
 Christoph Smak can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ChristophSmak.
Michael Schenkel is Head of Marketing at t2informatik. He enjoys blogging about project management and requirements engineering topics. And certainly he will be happy if you meet him for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake.