There’s no single way to improve communication in the workplace. It’s a constant source of struggle for many employers.
To show the struggle, I’ll share a story about my friend’s experience with miscommunication and its effect on employees.
Communication Isn’t One-Way
My friend, Dana, worked for a training simulation company. Dana was an outstanding software engineer. Because of her impeccable track record, the company Director of Engineering, Stan, approached Dana and asked her to be the team leader for an upcoming project.
Dana was required to fulfill her team lead duties as well as her normal workload because “it shouldn’t take up that much time.” However, there was one problem.
The company struggled with meeting deadlines and logging billing hours. The company needed to estimate hours spent on the project to bill their client.
Anticipating hours worked was an enormous challenge for Dana, and she frequently received backlash from her bosses for projecting too many hours for her project.
The Vice President, Allen, gathered Dana’s team and others working on the project and demanded that they build better solutions using fewer hours. However, Allen’s demands fell on deaf ears.
Allen’s ‘just do it’ attitude caused resentment throughout Dana’s team as they didn’t have the resources to complete the project with fewer hours.
It seemed like Allen wasn’t interested in hearing the problems Dana’s team experienced to shore up the billing hours problem.
Dana worked for six months to present their product to their customer. But, the simulation still had errors at the deadline. So, the client agreed to push back the due date.
Allen was upset at the delay and reacted by intervening and trying to fix everything instead of delegating tasks to trusted leaders.
Eventually, Dana grew tired of her team leader position. After another setback, Allen unilaterally removed Dana as project lead for her team.
Dana felt that Allen blamed her for not trying to fix the issues. She could have stated how overworked she was.
But the main problem was trust. Dana felt like Allen did not trust her to accomplish the tasks she was required to do.
Allen would come again to try to correct the situation, but when he did, it caused further distrust among Dana’s team. In Dana’s words, she said, “When we talked with [Allen], we didn’t trust that he actually cared about what we said, so we told him what he wanted to hear.”
As a result, the team finished the project with more delays, frustration, and disappointment.
Dana’s story is an unfortunate reality for our workplaces. Allen did not listen to Dana’s team. And Dana didn’t communicate the full picture to Allen.
The disconnect between Allen and Dana created unmet expectations on both sides. Instead of fostering resentment, either party is capable of approaching the other to manage expectation.
Expectation management may be difficult for many. One thing is inevitable: bad news doesn’t get better with time. So, if bosses and subordinates disagree on a way-ahead, then crisis will strike.
I won’t ignore that there are two sides to every story.
Communication is a problem here. Dana and Allen both have unmet concerns. Each is having difficulty expressing those concerns in productive ways. As a result, Dana became dissatisfied, Allen continued reacting poorly, and the company suffered.
This vignette shows us three important things.
-Know your people.
-Set expectations early
-Be proactive with your progress
Complaining Doesn’t Help
Airing your concerns is different from complaining. Consider these two phrases:
“Jim is late with his report again. He’s irresponsible and doesn’t care.”
“Jim is late with his report again. What’s going on?”
It’s easy to fall into the first phrase. We assume that Jim is late because he doesn’t care.
Asking questions takes courage. Consider the book by the Arbinger Institute called Leadership and Self-Deception talks about seeing people as people instead of view others as obstacles to success.
Being empathetic helps to resolve issues professionally. Self-deceived bosses will view their subordinates as incompetent when it could be another problem.
Now, back to the vignette. We can say that Allen should have asked Dana why her billing hour predictions are inaccurate.
Or, we can say that Allen should have come down to the department to see what’s happening. And there is probably a myriad of other things Allen should have done to remedy the situation.
‘We Need Better Communication’ Is A Cop-Out Answer
Leaders need open communication with their subordinates. Navy Captain (R) L. David Marquet’s book Turn the Ship Around talks about formal and informal communication with his sailors.
Although formal speech is vital at work to communicate, make room for informal communication to encourage candidness. Your subordinates want to tell you what’s going on in their cubicle, but you have to be willing to listen.
Additionally, your subordinates will only tell you what you want to hear when that’s the message you send to them. It’s easy to say that your company needs better communication without implementing a way to make that happen.
Encourage open discussion. For instance, tell your employees to share their opinions openly. If you maintain an open communication line with your employees, then you’ll experience greater coordination as a result.
For example, in Donald T. Phillip’s book Lincoln on Leadership, Abraham Lincoln was notorious for keeping his office door open to anyone who wished to see him.
Have an open-door policy and listen carefully to what your employees have to say.
Finally, stop falling back on the “we need better communication” answer. It’s not that you need better communication. You need more of the right kind of communication. That is, you need your correspondence to take action instead of staying within a boardroom.
Support Your Successor
Have you ever been replaced at work even though you’re still working in the same department? It’s a disheartening feeling. Resist the urge to complain. The people you formerly led are still looking to you for leadership.
That’s why you need to support the new leader even more.
Give the next team leader everything you have even if you’re still hurting. Think about the success of the team instead of personal achievements. If you think of the situation this way, you’ll find more satisfaction.
With this in mind, understand that success isn’t a zero-sum game. We often see our losses as another’s gain, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
For example, Dana could have bemoaned her situation. However, she did the right thing and gave the next team leader everything she had.
It’s not easy to do that. But it is the right thing to do.
In essence, communication isn’t as it seems. If we’re mad at someone at work because of something, we’re usually missing the bigger picture.
Get to know your people, and they’ll work hard for you. In short, make sure you have open communication with the people you serve.
How would you have handled this situation? Let me know in the comment section down below. Thanks for reading!
For a book review on Turn the Ship Around! by David Marquet, click here.
Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute. Read a review here.
Turn the Ship Around! by David R. Marquet. Read a review here.
Lincoln On Leadership by Donald T. Phillips.
Featured Image: RF._.Studio