THE COMMUNICATIONS DILEMMA

Organizations spend countless resources "communicating" to their employees only to find that employees consistently respond to surveys, focus groups, and meetings and in one-on-one discussions (usually in the hallways or restrooms) that "they never tell me anything" or "I never know what's going on around here". In other words,

Could it be that, in our sincerest efforts to communicate with employees, we are simply "missing the boat"?

Communications: A definition

Someone ("sender") transmits a message to someone ("receiver") that has the same meaning to the receiver as it does to the sender.

The sender encodes his/her message based upon his/her filters - biases, presumptions and preferred information gathering method. The receiver, decodes the message based upon his/her filters - biases, presumptions and preferred information gathering method, then hears the message.

Schematically, the communications process looks something like this:

The only way this simple looking process can possibly work is in the off chance that the filters of the sender and the filters of the receiver are identical . . . AND THEY RARELY ARE!

A framework for understanding

People relate to their experiences in a variety of ways. We gather and store information and make sense of that information and memories of our experiences very differently. Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) is a framework for understanding those differences and how these differences affect our efforts to communicate effectively with each other.

Auditory people primarily use their ears to perceive the world and depend upon words for information that leads to behavior. They have a keen sense of words, often have "easy to listen to" voices, and carry on internal "debates". They prefer to absorb information best through words - by reading, hearing a lecture, from "books on tape", etc.

Visual people primarily use their eyes to perceive the world and they trust their images as a basis for decisions. They prefer pictures, sights, and have memories that are graphic, with good recall of colors and shapes.

Kinesthetic people feel their way through experiences. They sort external and internal stimuli through their feelings and use these feelings in their decision-making. They are more aware of tactile feelings and visceral emotions. They prefer to take in information by action - doing the task or work, discussing that experience and learning from it.

Just imagine an attempt at dialogue between an auditory and visual person.

Leader (auditory): "Here are your instructions for the project. Just
read them carefully and you will know exactly what I expect of you."
Subordinate (visual): "What will a satisfactory project look like
when it is finished to your satisfaction?"
Leader (auditory): "All you have to do is read the memo.
It is perfectly clear what is needed"
Subordinate (visual): "Can't you just show me what you want?"

Returning to our schematic above, the filters through which both encoding and decoding the message took place are VERY different. No wonder the message was not effectively conveyed!

Most executives that I have met are auditory people while the world in which they work is composed of people whose preferred mode of absorbing information may well be by another "mode".

Researchers tell us that while the auditory or visual mode may be ones' primary preferred mode of taking in information, the kinesthetic mode seems to be the "backup" mode for everyone. If there is a message that needs to be delivered, we are much more likely to get that message across and understood by using a combination of the three modes in our delivery.

A combination of written documents with graphic depictions coupled with an experiential activity that enables people to "live the message" seems to be the most appropriate method for ensuring that people 'get the message.

In my experience, the only way that the sender can be sure that she/he has truly communicated - transferred the message to the receiver with the same meaning - is through some form of feedback loop.

Practicing active listening, in which the sender asks the receiver to feed back to him/her (the sender) what she/he (the receiver) heard and understood in the message, provides the sender with the opportunity to verify that his/her message has been received with the same meaning. If not, the sender can then rephrase the message and/or respond to questions for clarification.

HYPOTHESES

1.The people who do the work know best how to do the work and they also know best what information they need/want and how they can best receive or "hear" that information.

2.Those involved in determining what will be communicated and how that information will be delivered - no matter how sincere their intentions - are, at best, "guessing" about what employees need/want to know and the best way(s) of delivering that information.

SUGGESTION

Why not ask employees how the communications process can be improved and enlist their assistance in making that improvement?

Why not distribute a copy of a simple questionnaire (see attachment) to all employees during a meeting; ask them to anonymously fill out the form before they leave the meeting and place them in "collection boxes" around the room.

Collect all the forms, analyze the results and take actions - including getting employees to assist - to modify both the content and delivery methods to meet their needs.

CAUTION!

Be prepared to learn that at least 50% of what you are now doing is "missing the mark". This is not the time to defend or blame others. Well-intentioned people are trying hard to "get the message out" and are, simply, off target due to the lack of information. Take the information and do something with it.

COMMUNICATIONS IMPROVEMENT SURVEY

So that we can be as effective as possible in providing you with the information that you need and want to have, we know that we must improve upon both the content and methods of delivery in our communications. WE NEED YOUR HELP! Please answer the following questions as candidly as possible and place your completed survey in the boxes provided around the room. DO NOT SIGN YOUR NAME OR IDENTIFY YOURSELF IN ANY WAY!

  • What information are you now getting that you find you neither need nor want?


  • What information are you now getting that would be more helpful if modified in content, format, timing and/or method of delivery? (Please be specific and include your suggestions for improvement.)


  • What information are you now getting that you find you neither need nor want?


  • What information are you now NOT getting that you would LIKE to get in the future? (Please be specific and included suggestions as to how this information can best be provided.)


THANKS FOR YOUR HELP!