In military forces around the world, top-notch communication skills, or a lack thereof, are considered a life and death issue. After all, any slip in the communication lines can result in catastrophe – soldiers can lose their lives, innocent civilians can be killed or harmed, wars can be lost. Big communication blunders are rarely forgiven, those who make the small ones are often subjected to the “three strikes and you’re out” rule.
In business, some workplaces have their communication down pat. Others are terrible, yet refuse to learn their lesson when blunders happen time and again. A study from a few years ago labeled “The Cost of Poor Communication” made it abundantly clear that communication woes cannot be treated as a casual issue.
The study surveyed 400 businesses with 100,000 or more employees on staff. The results were shocking, detailing average per-company losses of $62.4 million annually due to lack of proper communication standards. Don’t fool yourself into thinking this financial consequence doesn’t trickle down to SMEs – the dollar amounts might be lower, but the toll can be even more devastating.
Communication problems need to be nipped in the bud as soon as they show themselves, and a proactive plan to perfect your internal communications needs to be put in place to make sure they happen as little as possible.
1. Make “professionalism” mandatory
This one is really simple. Your employees aren’t children. Communication can come to a stand-still when two, or several employees let their personal opinions of each other get in the way of their work. Whether it be ignoring someone because you don’t respect them personally, or jealousy, or any number of different personal issues.
If they want to work something out on their own time, tell them to have at it. At work, you’re all there to do a job, and personal differences and/or bringing personal problems to work with them are entirely unacceptable – to the point where their job is on the line if they can’t adhere to this rule.
2. Teach proper communication skills
Communication doesn’t happen overnight. To be successful, the company needs to have a set communication standard in place. Meaning, all current employees must have a standardized way in which they’re expected to communicate. Adopting new technology and learning from past mistakes is critical to eliminating communication woes big and small.
A good example would be the use of sticky notes and other forms of paper communication as a way of delivering important messages. Using a pen and paper is a rather outdated way to get messages to coworkers and supervisors. Sticky notes stop being sticky and fall off, messages get buried under paperwork, coffee gets spilled, etc.
The best and smartest way to make sure an important message gets to the intended recipient is by making sure your office communication plan states that all important messages need to be both texted and emailed to the recipient, and that follow up is mandatory if the person or persons don’t send confirmation and feedback within a set time frame.
Employees who haven’t yet learned the art of streamlining their messages need to be dealt with too – poorly worded emails can cost SMEs hundreds of thousands a year.
3. Frown on one-way communication – ie., lack of feedback when instructions are given
There are a couple of key problems with one-way communication:
- First, the person making a request is doing something that should never be done in the world of effective communication – assuming the message was received as intended.
- Second, the person being given direction is either hiding the fact they don’t understand, or assuming they understand without offering feedback that can help the messenger see they aren’t getting it.
Either option is highly detrimental to preventing communication woes, and worse, so easily preventable. This problem should plain never happen when seasoned professionals are working together.
This needs to start at the supervisory level and trickle its way down. When a manager demands feedback from their employees whenever delivering instructions, employees will naturally adapt this practice into how they communicate with coworkers.
Those who don’t can quickly be identified and coached to learn the magic of never walking away from an important conversation without being reasonably sure the person they were just talking to got their message loud and clear.
Don’t forget to tell the newbies!
All new hires must be trained in these and other expectations as to how coworkers and managers communicate with each other. This is the only way cement a proper inter-company communication plan. Once you have an inter-company communication plan in place, all it takes is one rotten apple to ruin the bunch!